SafeFood© and Slow Cookers
Reader Cleo wondered about the safety of foods cooked in crock pots (aka slow cookers). This is a great question, especially this time of year when it is so cold and dark outside. If I have my act together and get the slow cooker going before I head out to work, I am rewarded with opening the door to inviting smells and having the time to read the paper (with my medicinal glass of red wine) before dinner, because dinner is ready when I am. So, the benefits are there. And yes, if used properly the slow cooker is safe. Cleo wondered because she knew about the temperature danger zone and the importance of cooking certain foods like poultry to at least 165 F. Crock pots cook food “low and slow” at temperatures usually between 170 F and 280 F (this is above the temps needed to kill/lower bacterial load but below oven temperatures and a bonus is that the moist heat can tenderize tougher cuts of meat). But the meat or poultry has to be thawed when beginning the process and the vegetables and other add- in’s must be washed. If meat or poultry is not thawed, then the food is in the temperature danger zone for a long period of time (moving up from zero degrees to above 165 F will take too much time and bacterial counts will quickly multiply to dangerous levels). Another safety consideration is to not assemble the ingredients until just before turning on the unit – keep the meat or poultry separate from the other foods used in the recipe to avoid contamination. This is part of “cooking clean”. Final tips: make sure the cooker is plugged in and turned on before you leave for the day AND keep the lid in place until cooking is completed. Remember too, that the slow cooker is for cooking – it is not designed to reheat foods. Cleo, thanks for raising some good points and reminding us about the plusses of crock pots!