Your Crock Pot Temperature – Is it Accurate?
The first thing to consider in food safety is the temperature of your crock pot. Foods cooked in a slow cooker must reach an internal temperature fast enough so as to inhibit the growth of bacteria. The temperature should be sufficiently out of the danger zone if it reaches 185 degrees F, or 85 degrees C.
It is recommended that you test the temperature of your crock pot if you haven’t used in a while or if you suspect it’s not cooking properly, using this method:
- Fill your slow cooker about 2/3 full with cold water.
- Cover and turn heat to Low, leaving it on for 8 hours.
- Using an accurate cooking thermometer, check the water temperature quickly (as heat will escape rapidly when cover is off) to ensure that it is about 185 degrees F, or 85 degrees C.
- A temperature lower than that will indicate that your food will not reach a safe cooking temperature. A temperature higher than that will indicate that your crock pot is cooking at a higher temperature than indicated. Either way, it’s time for a new crock pot.
Along with checking your crock pot temperature for safety, you’ll want to check the general accuracy of your crock pot’s heat settings. As with ovens, temperatures and settings on the dial are just an estimate of “high” or “low.” Don’t assume that the crock pot you have and the recipe you’re using are 100% in sync.
After all, the recipe you follow most likely was written by someone using their own crock pot as a guide. The heat ranges on your crock pot may be very different from the recipe author’s heat ranges.
I learned the hard way the first time I cooked a roast in my slow cooker. Even though I followed a recipe and cooked a boneless roast for the eight hours called for, my slow cooker has a higher temperature and that roast was turned to dust!
Even on low, I could have left that boneless roast in my slow cooker for half the time called for in the recipe. In other words, if you don’t make adjustments for your crock pot heat settings, you may find that your meal has actually cooked in four hours and spent the other four hours drying out. Live and learn.
To avoid a similar food crisis, test your slow cooker when you’re home all day to check on it. Pick a recipe that cooks a meal at a “low” setting and see how long it actually takes the food to cook. Give it a quarter of the time, quickly check it, recover and keep cooking if necessary.
Then at the half way mark, check it again quickly. Remember, if you lift the lid, the temperature will drop, so do this systematically, and only briefly. Based on what you discover, you’ll know if adjustments to cooking times will need to be made to your recipes when you are away from home.
Handling Food Safely – Before, During, And After Cooking
Once you have an accurate reading on the safety of your crock pot, it is time to consider how to ensure the safety of your food. There are several factors to consider in order to cook safely in your crock pot. We have listed here a few common sense items and some safety tips specifically for crock pot cooking:
Never partially cook meat or poultry and refrigerate in preparation for your meal. This is something that cannot be done in advance of putting your crock pot meal together as partially cooked meat cannot be left to sit for any period of time at all, in or out of the refrigerator.
Meat and poultry which has been thoroughly cooked in preparation for your crock pot meal may be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator overnight, but never in the same containers along with any vegetables.
Vegetables which have been cleaned and cut in preparation for the assembly of your crock pot meal may be stored in sealed containers overnight, but never in the same containers along with any meat, cooked or raw.
Raw meat and poultry may be cut into recipe-ready size pieces, left raw, and stored in sealed containers in the refrigerator overnight.
Never allow meat or poultry to sit out and reach room temperature before cooking.
Always brown ground meat and poultry before adding to your crock pot.
Never put frozen meat or poultry in your crock pot. This will severely alter the time it takes for your crock pot to bring your meat or poultry up to a safe temperature level.
In other words, a frozen piece of meat can stay dangerously close to an insufficient temperature for a long period of time in the crock pot, promoting bacteria growth. Always use fresh or thawed meat and poultry products.
Pre-packaged frozen vegetables can normally be added to your crock pot as they are pre-cooked and flash-frozen by the manufacturer before packaging.
With larger cuts of meat and whole poultry, it’s always best to brown the meat before adding to your crock pot. Cook on High for the first hour, turning to Low for the remainder of the recipe. This ensures that the larger cuts of meat will reach a safe temperature quickly.
Pay close attention to quantities in your crock pot. If you double a recipe, it may take longer to come up to a safe temperature.
Never overfill your crock pot. Most crock pots are designed to cook best at half to two thirds full, leaving at least a 2 inch space at the top.
When cooking meat or poultry, the liquid should almost cover the meat completely. This will ensure proper heat transfer from the crock pot itself to the meat.
Do not lift the lid on your crock pot while it’s cooking any more than is absolutely necessary, for instance, to add ingredients. It is estimated that it takes a crock pot 20 minutes to recover its level of heat every time the lid is removed.
This cooling-off slows the process of heating the food to a safe temperature and changes the calculation for the time it will take to fully cook your meal. You don’t want to end up with undercooked poultry or meat that was left at an unsafe cooking temperature for too long. This is a bacteria nightmare in the making.
Food can be safely served from a crock pot for up to 2 hours on a Warm, Buffet, or Low setting.
Leftovers must be removed from a crock pot and placed in small storage containers, sealed, and refrigerated or frozen immediately. Small containers will speed the cooling process and ensure the food reaches the “safety zone” of 40 degrees or cooler quickly.
Never store your leftovers in the crock pot. Large quantities of food do not cool off fast enough to prevent bacteria from forming in that “danger zone” of 140 degrees F, down to 40 degrees F. A crock pot has an additional disadvantage to quick cooling – its stoneware interior, or crock insert, is meant to retain heat.
That makes the food stay warm, which is nice for cooking and serving, but also will keep the food from cooling off fast enough to prevent bacteria.
Never use your crock pot to reheat food. Leftovers should be heated quickly to at least 165 degrees F to prevent bacteria from forming, and a crock pot is intended to cook slowly. Leftovers are best reheated in small quantities either in a saucepan, oven, or microwave.
However, in the case of a large quantity of food that you want to let simmer again, or want to take to a potluck, for instance, re-heat the food quickly in a large saucepan, and then transfer to a pre-heated crock pot turned to Low. Then you can go ahead and let it simmer.
Crock Pot Safety Tips
- Never set your crock pot on a surface which can be reached by children in the house.
- Never let the crock pot’s cord hang over the edge of the counter.
- Never put your crock pot on or near objects that can melt or burn.
- Never use a crock pot that has a cracked, chipped, or scratched interior.
- Never use a crock pot with a cracked or seriously damaged lid. Most manufacturers sell replacement lids.
- Never use a crock pot with any power cord that is cracked, torn, or worn in any way.
- Never use a power cord with your crock pot that wasn’t intended for use with that crock pot model.
- Never use an extension cord with your crock pot.
- Never put your crock pot in an enclosed area, such as a cupboard or pantry, while it is cooking.
- Never cover your crock pot with a towel or any cloth while it’s plugged in.
- Never transport a hot crock pot without a suitably stable container to hold and support the crock pot safely.
- Never lift the crock pot’s lid in such a way as to allow steam to escape toward your face; tip the cover away from you as you lift the lid.
- Never over-fill your crock pot as it may boil over. Allow about 2 inches of room at the top.