Food Temperatures

Food Tempatures

(relates to inspection form #1,2,3,4,5,15,24)

When you eat out, you eat foods that are made by someone else. You trust them to make it safe for you to eat. Now you will be preparing food for other people, and they will trust you to do all that you can to keep them from getting sick.

Golden Rule: What you serve is what you will one day be served.

This section explains how to kill harmful organisms with heat during cooking and how to stop their growth by keeping the food hot or cold. This is called temperature control, and you need thermometers to check food temperatures. There are special thermometers to check foods; there are also special thermometers to check refrigerator temperatures. There should be a thermometer visible in all cooling units.  

Temperature Control

This section explains how to kill harmful organisms with heat during cooking and how to stop their growth by keeping the food hot or cold. This is called temperature control, and you need thermometers to check food temperatures. There are special thermometers to check foods; there are also special thermometers to check refrigerator temperatures. There should be a thermometer visible in all cooling units.


Bacteria, and other harmful organisms, need time, food and moisture (or wetness) to grow; but they do not grow well when the temperature of the food is colder than 41° F (7°C) or hotter than 135°F (60°C). The temperatures between 41°F and 135°F are in the . Keep potentially hazardous foods out of the . For example, when food is left out in the , bacteria can grow fast, and make toxins that can make your customers and family very sick.


You must place the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat or in the center of the food to get a true reading. Do not touch a bone with the stem of the thermometer.

All poultry, all food made from poultry, all stuffed meats, and the stuffing in them must reach 165°F or hotter to destroy salmonella and other bacteria.

Hamburger (ground beef) must be cooked to 155°F to kill an organism called Shiga toxin producing E.coli. This includes all kinds of hamburger such as taco meat, meat loaf, as well as hamburger patties.

Fish, seafood, all foods made with seafood, and all other meats, such as beef, lamb, and pork must be cooked to 145°F or hotter to kill the bacteria that causes food borne illness. Some people like rare beef, and this is the one meat that can be cooked only to 130°F if it is served right away. No raw meat is really safe to eat. If your establishment serves raw or undercooked animal protein, it is necessary that the customer is warned of possible health risks.

Never cook large roasts, turkeys or stuffed turkeys while they are still frozen. Their big size keeps the insides from cooking to a safe temperature. You must thaw them first so the heat can reach the center of the meat.

Microwave ovens do not cook evenly; you must stir and turn the food while it cooks to make sure it cooks to the same temperature in every part. Check the food with a thermometer before you serve it. (Do not keep the thermometer in the food while it is cooking in the microwave oven).

How Cold is Cool? How Hot is Warm?

Between the time that you cook the food and you put away the cooked food in a cooler or freezer, its temperature can fall into the . This section discusses how to keep food safe while it gets past the . You will learn about how to keep cooked foods hot, hot holding, and how to reheat cold food. You will also learn how to get cooked foods cool, and how to keep food cold, also called cold holding. We begin with cooling hot food the right way.


You always take a chance when you have to cool food down. The best way to have safe food is to make it fresh each day, just before you serve it. If you have food that is left over or made in advance, you must cool it and store it safely. The first rule to remember about cooling: Cool hot food as fast as you can to below 41°F (5°C), past the. Food that is not cooled fast enough is the Number One cause of food poisoning.

Potentially Hazardous Foods should be cooled within a 6-hour time frame (135°F-70°F in first 2 hours; 70°F-41°F in the next 4 hours).

The following are some ideas on how to achieve that standard:


Cooling Solid Foods

Here are five steps to cool solid foods such as roast, turkey, and solid cuts of meat:

  1. Cut large roasts and turkeys into pieces no larger than 4 pounds.
  2. Put all meats and other hot food in the cooler or refrigerator as quickly as you can; do not let the food sit at room temperature.
  3. Do not stack pans; leave space for air to move around them.
  4. Use a metal stem thermometer to check food temperature (clean and sanitize thermometer stem after each use).
  5. Wait until the food has cooled to below 41°F before you cover it.


Cooling Soft/Thick Foods

Examples of soft/thick foods are refried beans, rice, potatoes, stews, chili, thick soup or thick sauces. You can cool soft/thick foods by pouring food into a shallow metal pan. The food cannot be more than 4 inches deep. For very thick foods like refried beans or chowder, you must have the food no more than 3 inches deep. You can also cool soft/thick foods using an ice and water bath. How to do an ice and water bath will be shown later with the cooling of liquid foods. Here are seven steps for cooling foods in a shallow metal pan:

  1. Pour hot food into shallow metal pans.

    • Soft/thick foods: keep food depth at 3 inches or less.
    • Thin soups and thin sauces: keep food depth at 4 inches or less.
  2. Put hot food in the refrigerator as quickly as you can; do not let food sit out at room temperature.
  3. Do not cover the food until it has cooled to below 41°F.
  4. Do not stack pans; leave space for air to move around them.
  5. Stirring food speeds up cooling time.
  6. Use your metal stem thermometer to check temperature (clean and sanitize thermometer stem after each use).
  7. Once food cools to 41°F, you can place food in a larger container and cover.

Example of procedures:
Food being cooled and stored in a deep container in a walk-in cooler is a violation.


Cooling Liquid Foods

When you cool thin soup and sauces you can use shallow 4 inch metal pans, or you can use the ice and water bath. Remember, you want the food to cool as fast as possible to below 41°F. For shallow pan cooling, the food must be no more than 4 inches deep. Do not cover the food until it has cooled to 41°F in the refrigerator. Here are eight steps for cooling food with an ice bath:

  1. Close the drain in a large sink. Place the metal pot or pan of hot food in the sink.
  2. Fill the sink with ice up to the level of food in the pot.
  3. Add cold water to the ice.
  4. Stir the soup or sauce often so that it cools all the way to the center. Ice paddles or cooling wands can be used to speed up the cooling process.
  5. Add more ice as the old ice melts.
  6. Check the food temperature with a metal stem thermometer. (Clean and sanitize the thermometer stem after each use).
  7. Be sure you have cooled the food from 135°F to under 41°F in less than 6 hours.
  8. Put the cooled foods in the refrigerator or freezer.

Each refrigeration unit, cold table or cooler must have its own thermometer that gives a true measure of how cold the air is, but you must also check the food with a metal stem or laser thermometer. Air in the cooler must be able to move around the food, so the pans and dishes need to have space between them; do not crowd them.


Cold Holding

For cold holding, do not let food stand at room temperature because that will allow harmful organisms to grow. Store foods in a refrigerator, refrigerated display case, in ice, or other approved method. Always hold cold foods at 41°F.Use a thermometer to check cold holding temperatures in salad bars, prep areas, and in coolers. If you use ice to keep the food cold on a salad bar or food display, be sure that the ice comes up to the level of the food that is in the pan or the dish. Food must be colder than 41°F when you put it in the ice. Hold cold foods at 41°F or less. In-line prep coolers manufactured before 2003 can be maintained at 45°F. If your establishment serves food out of a buffet, you must have a laser thermometer. This allows you to check temperatures without cross-contaminating between products

Thawing Frozen Foods

There are only three safe ways to thaw foods, and you must plan ahead to allow enough time to do it right:

  1. Thaw food in the refrigerator; it may take a few hours or a few days. This is the best and safest way. Be sure to put meat in a container to catch the meat juices and to keep them from dripping. Put raw meats on the bottom shelf away from ready-to-eat foods.
  2. Hold the food under cool, running water (70°F or less), never under warm, hot, or standing water.
  3. Defrost in a microwave oven; you must then cook it or serve it right away.

Never thaw food at room temperature, on a counter or in warm or hot water. These methods let the food get into the which lets harmful bacteria grow to high numb


SOme Special Rules for Cold Salads & Sandwich Spreads

You have learned about potentially hazardous food, and how the bacteria grow very easily in them. These foods must not be left at room temperature for even a short time. Foods like potato salad, pasta or macaroni salad, egg salad and chicken salad have to be cold enough to keep harmful organisms from growing. When you make these foods, start with cold ingredients.

  • Wash your hands before handling the salad ingredients.
  • Make cold salads with cold cooked foods such as potatoes, pasta, chicken and eggs; all ingredients should be chilled to 41°F.

If you wonder about keeping something cold, keep it cold while you check with your food manager, the boss, or the Health Department.


Food that is cooked and then cooled may need to be heated again. When you must reheat food, do it very quickly (within 2 hours) to 165°F (74°C). The right way to do this is on the stove burners, or in microwave ovens, convection ovens, or double boilers. Do not use anything that will heat the food slowly, because it takes too long to pass the . Stir the food to be sure that all parts of it are hot. Then use your metal stem thermometer to check the temperature. Reheat foods to 165°F.

What About Foods Left at the table?

When a customer leaves food on a plate or at the table, you must throw it away. If you have food like chips, rolls and bread and some of it is left over, you cannot serve it again. Unopened packages of crackers, jelly, candy or sugar may be served again.

When the Equipment Breaks Down or Power Goes Off

If the electric power goes off, if the water supply is damaged, if there is no hot water, if the sewer or waste system backs up in the drains:

  • Close the business right away.
  • Call the Health Department for help and advice.

If something goes wrong with the stove, the refrigerators, the freezers, the steam tables, salad bar or display coolers, or any equipment that keeps the food safe to serve, you must think and act quickly:

  • Be sure potentially hazardous hot foods stay hot (at least 135°F or more).
  • Be sure potentially hazardous cold foods stay cold (at least 41°F or colder).

If a refrigerator does not work right, the temperature of the food in it can reach the . Before you move the food to another cooler, check its temperature with the metal stem thermometer. If it is still colder than 41°F (5°C), move it quickly to a cooler or refrigerator that is OK.

If a freezer lets food thaw, check the food temperature with a metal stem thermometer. You can prepare the food, if it is still colder than 41°F.

If hot holding equipment like a steam table or soup warmer fails, measure the temperature of the food it was holding. If the food is still hotter than 135°F (60°C), you have two choices:

  • Move the hot food to equipment that is OK and that will keep it hot.
  • Cool the food quickly using shallow metal pans or an ice bath. You must throw out food that has been found in the (temperatures between 41°F and 135°F). Do not serve it and do not give it to staff, family or shelters. Call your local Health Department office for help and advice.


Self test

Why is temperature control so important when handling food?
Because 90% of all food poisonings happen when correct temperatures are not kept. Keep hot foods at 135°F or hotter and cold foods below 41°F

What should you use to check food temperatures?
A probe thermometer (with a metal stem) is one way to check food to see if it is hot enough or cold enough. Dials and gauges are not always right, so check the food with the thermometer. A laser thermometer is required to check foods held in a buffet line.

Why should you stir food as it cools?
Foods need to be stirred so that they will cool quickly and get out of the . If they are not stirred, bacteria could grow in the center of the food and contaminate it.

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Bryan, Texas 77803