What is the Food Danger Zone?
The temperature range where food-borne bacteria can grow rapidly is known as the food danger zone. This range is typically between 40 F and 140 F. Bacteria can grow at twice the rate in as little as 20 minutes when conditions are favorable. And when food is held in this temperature zone for more than two hours, there is an increased risk of food poisoning.
It is therefore important to ensure that food is not left in the danger zone. And if, for some reason, food stays in the danger zone for some time, it should be properly heated or cooled to prevent bacteria from growing. There are several ways to do this, include cooking food to an appropriate internal temperature, refrigerating perishable foods, and using proper hot and cold holding techniques.
How Long Can Food Stay in the Food Danger Zone?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food can stay in the danger zone for two hours or less. After that, bacteria can grow and multiply rapidly, making food unsafe.
However, there are some exceptions to the rule. For example, meat cooked at an internal temperature of 140 F can remain in the danger zone for up to four hours if it is hot enough (above 140 F). Highly acidic food (with a pH below 4.6), such as lemon juice or vinegar, can safely be stored at room temperature. If the food is dehydrated, for example, food that is dried or salted, such as jerky or bacon, can also be stored at room temperature. These foods have very low water content, and bacteria cannot grow in them. If the food has been treated with certain chemicals and is shelf stable, like ready-to-eat foods, they are also safe and an exception to the rule.
Bacteria can cause foodborne illness
Restaurant owners can avoid bacteria growth by knowing the food danger zone temperature
How to Keep Food Out of the Food Danger Zone?
USDA's Food Safety And Inspection Service (FSIS) says that bacteria that can cause illness may grow in food that is left out of the refrigerator for too long. These bacteria include Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli O157-H7, Salmonella Enteritidis, and Campylobacter.
There are a few ways to avoid the growth of bacteria in the food danger zone. Let's look at these in detail...
1. Keep Food Out of the Danger Zone!
FSIS recommends never leaving food unrefrigerated for more than two hours. If the ambient temperature is above 90 F, food items shouldn't be left out for more than an hour.
Keeping hot food hot will help. It means keeping food at or above 140 F. Cooked foods should be placed in chafing dishes, steam tables, warming trays, or slow cookers. Similarly, cold foods should be kept at or below 40 F to prevent bacterial growth. Either refrigerate the food or place it in containers on ice.
Don't let raw meat, poultry, or seafood sit out. These items should always be kept refrigerated or frozen until they are ready to be cooked. And it is important to keep perishable foods cold when transporting them. If you're taking them with you, make sure they stay cold by packing them in an insulated bag with ice packs. Similar precautions should be taken while thawing meat at room temperature as it allows bacteria to grow. It is best to thaw meat items in the fridge or microwave just before cooking.
Foods left in the danger zone for over two hours should be discarded.
2. Cook Thoroughly
Cooking food thoroughly is another way to kill bacteria that may be present in it. Bacteria tend to survive in undercooked foods. Be sure to cook meats fully until they reach an internal temperature of 145 F for whole cuts of lamb, beef, pork, or veal; 160 F for ground meats; and 165 F for poultry. If you're reheating leftovers, make sure they reach an internal temperature of 165 F before eating them. FSIS advises to reheat leftovers only once.
Another point to remember is that cross-contamination can occur when bacteria from raw meat, poultry, or seafood spread to other foods. To avoid cross-contamination, cook raw meat, poultry, and seafood separately from other foods; wash hands, utensils, and cutting boards after they have come in contact with raw meat; and use separate cutting boards for raw meat and ready-to-eat foods.
A food thermometer ensures that food is cooked and stored at the proper temperature.
As a restaurant owner, it is important to be aware of the food danger zone temperature
By being aware of the food danger zone temperature, restaurant owners can take steps to ensure that their food is safe for consumption
3. Use Fresh Ingredients
Using fresh ingredients can help prevent food contamination. Bacteria grow quickly on highly perishable foods like meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy products, and eggs. One should make sure to use these items within two days of purchase if they're stored properly. Canned items can also be a source of contaminants if found damaged or swollen, so always check canned goods before using them.
Food Types and Temperature Ranges
As mentioned above, different types of food require different cooking levels to be safe to eat. The USDA advises that all poultry items be cooked to a safe internal temperature. While roasting meat and poultry, the oven temperature should not be lower than 325 F. Use a meat thermometer to ensure that the food reaches a safe internal temperature.
Pork, beef, lamb, and veal steaks, chops, and roasts should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of at least 145 F and allowed to rest for four minutes before carving or eating. Ground meats (veal, beef, lamb, and pork) mechanically tenderized or injected must reach an internal temp of 155 F. Poultry is safe when it reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165 F. One can choose to cook poultry longer for personal taste preferences. Fish and any other seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 F.
A food temperature chart helps chefs cook and store food at the right temperature. It indicates what temperature to cook food at and how long to cook it. This information is important because different types of food need to be cooked at different temperatures. For example, chicken needs to be cooked at a higher temperature than fish.
The food danger zone is the temperature range where bacteria can grow rapidly. The ideal temperature for bacterial growth is between 40 F and 140 F. A food temperature chart helps identify which foods are most likely to support bacterial growth and should therefore be kept out of the danger zone. For example, milk and dairy products, meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and cooked rice are all high-risk foods that should be kept at or below 40 F. On the other hand, one can safely store prepared sauces, stews, and casseroles containing these ingredients at or above 140 F.
The Risks of Consuming Food Stored at Unsafe Temperatures
The dangers of consuming food stored at unsafe temperatures are numerous. The foremost is food poisoning. Food poisoning can occur when pathogenic bacteria grow on food that is not cooked properly and when contaminated food is consumed.
So, what exactly happens when food is stored in a food temp danger zone-
- Bacterial growth- Bacteria can grow very quickly at warm temperatures (the food danger zone is between 40 F and 140 F), so storing food at these temperatures for even a short period can increase the risk of bacterial contamination.
- Food spoilage- When food spoils, it not only becomes inedible, but can also produce harmful toxins that can cause illness. In addition, food stored at warmer temperatures is more likely to spoil than food stored at cooler temperatures.
- Illness- Since bacteria can grow and multiply rapidly in warm conditions, they can spoil food and lead to the growth of toxins. Consuming contaminated or spoiled food can cause various illnesses, ranging from vomiting, diarrhea, and mild gastroenteritis, to more serious conditions like listeriosis or salmonellosis. In addition to making a person sick, eating contaminated food can lead to other serious health problems, such as sepsis (a potentially life-threatening condition caused by infection) and kidney damage. Studies suggest that consuming food stored at unsafe temperatures can also increase the risk of developing certain cancers. It is especially dangerous if a person is pregnant, elderly, or has a weakened immune system. In such cases, the person is more vulnerable to the effects of foodborne illnesses.
- Mold growth- Mold loves warm, damp environments, so storing food in these conditions creates an ideal environment for mold spores to thrive and multiply.
- Allergies- Some people may be allergic to certain types of bacteria, such as those found in moldy cheese or improperly canned foods. These allergies range from mild (rashes, hives, etc.) to severe (anaphylaxis).
- Chemicals- Chemicals used in food storage (such as pesticides and preservatives) can sometimes leach into the food itself, causing health problems.
- Taste and texture changes- This is seldom discussed, but food stored at warmer temperatures will often change in taste and texture due to bacterial growth or chemical reactions, making it less enjoyable to eat.
- Loss of nutrients- Constant exposure to heat or light can cause some nutrients in foods (vitamins A and C, for example) to break down over time, making them less healthy overall.
- Contamination from other foods- If different types of foods are stored together at warm temperatures (without being properly sealed or wrapped), there is a risk that they will contaminate each other with bacteria or other contaminants.
How to Keep Your Food Safe?
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service extends its public health mission through educational outreach programs that promote science-based approaches to food safety. Here are a few tips from FSIS that help observe food safety protocols-
- Keep your hands clean. Frequently wash your hands with soap and water, for 20 seconds at least, especially before and after handling food.
- Avoid cross-contamination. Keep raw meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs away from each other. Use separate cutting boards and knives for different types of food, and wash them thoroughly after each use.
- Cook meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to ensure that food items reach a safe internal temperature before eating them.
- Refrigerate perishable food promptly. Perishable food items must be refrigerated within two hours of purchasing or cooking. If the outside temperature is high (beyond the food temperature danger zone), food should be refrigerated within an hour.
- Reheat cooked food till it's steaming hot. Bring soups, sauces and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.
- Defrost frozen food in the refrigerator, in cold water, or the microwave and never on the countertop or in hot water.
- Divide large amounts of leftovers into small containers so that they cool quickly. Once leftovers are cooled, cover them tightly and refrigerate them.
- Label all foods in the freezer with a date to rotate older items to the front.
Working with food can be a fun and rewarding experience. But it's important to remember that food safety is everyone's responsibility. Whether you're a professional chef or simply preparing meals for your family at home, following some basic food safety guidelines helps ensure that the food you serve is safe to eat.
According to the USDA, safe food handling is the key to preventing foodborne illnesses, and to help ensure the safety of food, the FDA has developed this guide for food handlers.
There are many organizations like Zipfoodhandler
that offer food handler's courses. These provide information on proper handwashing, cleaning and sanitizing practices, and other important topics related to food safety. Zipfoodhandler Features
a comprehensive guide that covers rules laid out by public health agencies to mitigate the risks of foodborne illnesses.
Maintaining food within a safe temperature zone is important for many reasons
Keeping food in a safe temperature zone protects the end-user from potentially harmful health effects