Are you logging final cook temps? by Barry Parsons

One of my favorite things to do is to be creative and have fun cooking. At a retailer, such as a supermarket, there are full kitchens that prepare and cook food that must be attractively presented in display cases. The consumer will take the food home and “reheat” it. Supermarkets must cook the food to the proper temperature to reduce or kill pathogens to a safe level and yet have the product delicious and still juicy and tender for the consumer after they reheat it.

It is critical that we use a clean, sanitized, and calibrated thermometer to achieve the minimal cooking temperature required by the local or state requirements and then cool the food quickly so it will display wonderfully. The cooking and cooling temperatures are just two pieces of the documentation that should be kept. Although according to the code, we have seven days to hold food we prepare due to listeria monocytogenes. Generally, hold times will be three or four days. This is because the refrigerated food in bowls and/or on plates within the display case can start to dry out. Quality is reduced so par levels should be established to turn the food quickly. Ensure all food products are dated and date the speed rack itself for food that will be used within 24 hours on a food bar. Chefs that come from restaurants and move into retail kitchens have a period of transition because of having to adjust to holding food in display cases changes how you will cook the food for later reheating by the consumer.

Restaurants are more challenging than a kitchen in retail because numerous techniques are needed to hold food, par cook food, and to cook food fast enough to ensure the customer is not waiting long. Although the cooks and Chef (s) are continually cooking food and have temperatures and procedures memorized, you still need to cook the food to the correct temperatures, and you can only demonstrate the food was cooked to the proper temperature by having records of final cook temperatures.

There are other logs, but there tends to be a lack of final cook temperatures documented to ensure your procedures were being followed. Without logs, you are unable to demonstrate that your food is properly cooked. Always remember the seventh principle of HACCP is documentation/record keeping. Most restaurants do not need a HACCP plan; however, if a foodborne illness occurs and you are accused of allegedly causing it, you need to have the proper records to defend yourself. You may have recipes, policies, and procedures, but remember it is your actions that count. You need to demonstrate the proper final cook temperatures were achieved. The FDA Food Code, under the knowledge section, states that you need to understand the principles of HACCP. Cooking, cooling, and reheating are the basis where you have an opportunity to prevent, reduce, or eliminate biological hazards. Record keeping helps to verify that you are following your recipes, policies, and procedures to keep your food safe.

This blog is not intended to be a substitute for the user's judgement and common sense. Any errors are unintentional. 

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