When food is prepared that will not be served immediately — for example, when you partially prep, or "par cook" dishes early to save time when they're ordered — it's important to get the food out of the temperature danger zone as fast as possible.
The General Rule
Foods that need time and temperature control to be safely consumed, also known as TCS food for short, must be cooled from 135˚F to 41˚F or lower. This must also be done within a minimum of six hours.
The danger zone for food is a range between 41˚F and 135˚F. It's in this range that harmful bacteria and foodborne illness can thrive. Furthermore within that range, bacteria grows even faster between 125˚F and 70˚F. After food has been cooked, it needs to be brought through this temperature range quickly to reduce the growth of bacteria.
Follow these guidelines when Cooling Food:
- First, cool food from 135˚F to 70˚F within two hours.
- Then cool it from 70˚F to 41˚F or lower in the next four hours.
Initial 2-Hour Cool is Critical
The initial 2-hour cool is very important. This is when your food is passing through the temperature range that supports the most rapid bacteria growth. If food has not reached 70 F within two hours, it must be reheated to 165 F for 15 seconds and then cooled again or thrown away. With this said, the total cooling time should not be longer than six hours.
Best Practices for Cooling Food Properly
Food needs help cooling down quickly; it can’t do it on its own. Factors that affect how quickly foods will cool down include:
- Size of the food item being cooled. The thickness of the food or distance to its center plays the biggest part in how fast a food cools.
- Density of the food. The denser the food, the slower it will cool. For example, chili will take longer than chicken noodle soup.
- Container in which a food is stored. Stainless steel transfers heat from foods faster than plastic. Initially loosely wrap food items.
- Size of container. Shallow pans with product depth less than 2 inches allow the heat from food to disperse faster than deep pans.
Never Hot on Cold
Your food will not move through the unsafe range fast enough if it is still hot when placed in a cooler or freezer or kept in bulk. Also, placing hot food in a cooler may raise the temperature of everything else being stored in that freezer, and put it into risk.
Divide to Reduce Time
Start the cooling process by reducing the size or mass of you food. Cutting large food items into smaller pieces and dividing large containers into smaller containers will speed up the cooling process.
Approved Methods to Cool Food
Approved and efficient ways to cool food include:
- Ice-Water Bath - This method promotes faster and more even cooling of your food. Food should be periodically stirred when using this method.
- Ice Paddles - Ice paddles are containers filled with water and frozen. They are used to stir food while cooling in an ice-water bath.
- Adding Ice as an Ingredient - Use ice in your recipe if water is an ingredient to expedite the cooling process.
- Blast or Tumble Chiller - fans blow chilled air over your cooling food to cool it down faster.
- Manual Process - Food containers can be loosely covered when placed in cooling or cold holding equipment. Containers may be uncovered if your food is protected from overhead contamination.