Navigating the Temperature Danger Zone: Food Safety Procedures for Cooling - Paster Training

Navigating the Temperature Danger Zone: Food Safety Procedures for Cooling

128,000 people are hospitalized due to food poisoning every year, and plenty more spend an uncomfortable day or two at home because of improperly handled food.

One of the most common circumstances in which bacteria grow in food is when people don't cool it fast enough. If food enters the temperature danger zone foodborne illnesses have a chance to multiply. Learn how to avoid this circumstance with these food safety procedures for cooling.

What Is the Temperature Danger Zone?

The danger zone is the temperature at which food enters the proper environment to allow bacteria to grow. When you cook food to the proper temperature, it's at a high enough heat to reduce bacteria to a safe level. Once it's been properly cooled and kept refrigerated, bacteria is then slowed and safe for a period of time.

But if food is cooled too slowly, it sits in a zone of temperatures that can put you at risk of food-borne illness. That temperature danger zone is anything between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. If your food remains in that temperature range for longer than 4-6 hours, your food is no longer safe to eat.

The basic rule is that the temperature of food must be reduced to lower than 41 degrees Fahrenheit within 6 hours following the 2-stage cooling method below.

What Puts You At Risk?

There are several factors that put your food at greater risk of remaining in the temperature danger zone for too long. Even if you follow these methods, they may not work if you are dealing with the following conditions. Verify and document that food is properly cooled instead of assuming that the method you are using is working.

Food Container Material

A food container made of plastic will hold on to heat and slow down the cooling process. Instead, opt for stainless steel, which will draw heat away.

Food Size and Thickness

Thick or dense food takes a longer time to cool. All you can do about that is either break it up into smaller portions about 2" deep for thicker produce and 2 1/2"deep for thin food.


Stirring your food while it's cooling can help speed up the process by making sure that all of your food gets evenly chilled. However, make sure that you're really getting it cold. Otherwise, you're just dispersing the bacteria around.

Two-Stage Method for Cooling Foods

According to the FDA, there are two stages that your food should enter for proper cooling. Within the first two hours, you should cool it down from 135 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If you do not hit 70 within the first two hours, you must reheat it to try again or throw it away.

Then, within an additional four hours, it must hit 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

Rapid Cooling Food

Here's a great way to rapidly cool food to make sure that you hit those time marks.

Start by dividing your food up into smaller portions so that it's easier to cool. Then fill a sink with ice and a little bit of water.

Place your food in shallow pans in the ice bath and regularly stir the food to help evenly distribute the cold. Cooling paddles can be used to stir for effective cooling. When it approaches 41 degrees, you can seal the containers and move them to the fridge.

Food Safety Procedures for Cooling That Anyone Can Use

While anyone can follow these food safety procedures for cooling, it is of the utmost importance that professional food handlers do. The only thing between your client's safety and a foodborne illness from your food is your own handling. Cool food quickly so that it stays out of the temperature danger zone.

Do you need training in food handling? Take a look at our food safety classes.

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