Slow cookers are a great kitchen appliance for helping those of us with busy days still serve a homemade dinner, but there are a few things you should know to make sure that meal is prepared safely. Read our tips from a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Nutrition Specialist, Dr. Jenna Anding, on slow cooker food safety.
Here are a few tips to help you get started with safe and successful slow cooking:
- The Basics:
Start with a clean cooker, utensils, and work area. Wash hands before and during food preparation, especially after handling raw meat and poultry.
Spray the inside of the crock with non-stick cooking spray before adding ingredients to keep the food from sticking. This makes cleaning the crock easier.
Prepare foods that have high moisture content like chili, soup, or spaghetti sauce. When using a commercially prepared frozen slow cooker meal, follow the instructions on the package.
- Safe Temperatures:
Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time. Meat and vegetables should be stored separately in the refrigerator in covered containers. It takes time for slow cookers to reach a temperature hot enough to kill bacteria so keeping these foods refrigerated helps ensure that bacteria, which multiply fast at room temperature, don’t get a head start during the first few hours of cooking. Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. Never put frozen meat or chicken in a slow cooker.
- Check your Model:
Depending on the age of your slow cooker, the size of meat or poultry you cook in the slow cooker matters. Until recently, placing a whole roast or chicken in a slow cooker was not recommended. New research conducted by USDA FSIS suggests that for newer models, it is safe to cook large cuts of meat and poultry in a slow cooker. The newer models of slow cookers are larger and more powerful than the older ones, so it is safe to cook larger pieces of meat and poultry. If you have an older model, continue to cut your meat or poultry into smaller pieces before cooking.
- Fill it properly:
Filling the slow cooker properly and making sure there is enough liquid are important in creating a tasty slow cooker meal! Fill the cooker between 1/2 and 2/3 full. Vegetables such as potatoes and carrots cook slower than meat and poultry so place them at the bottom of the cooker. Be sure the liquid almost covers the ingredients so there is proper heat transfer throughout the crock. The liquid is needed to generate the steam that cooks the food.
- No peeking!:
We know it can be tempting to get a sneak peek at the yummy dish you are serving for dinner, but don’t!
Keep the lid on the slow cooker during the cooking process. Remove only to stir the food or check for doneness. Each time the lid is raised, the internal temperature drops 10 – 15 degrees, and the cooking process is slowed by 20 to 30 minutes.
- Power Outage:
If you are not home during the entire slow-cooking process and the power goes out, throw out the food – even if it looks done! If you are home when the power goes off, finish cooking the ingredients immediately by some other means: on a gas stove, on an outdoor grill, or even at another house where there is power. If this is not possible, throw out the food. If you are home when the power goes off and if the food was already completely cooked, the food should remain safe for up to two hours in the cooker with the power off.
- Final Tips:
Use a food thermometer to make sure foods have been cooked to a safe internal temperature. Recommended temperatures are poultry (165 degrees), ground beef (160 degrees), beef steaks and roasts (145 degrees), and pork (160 degrees).
Store foods cooked in the slow cooker in shallow, covered containers and refrigerate within two hours of cooking. Reheat foods to 165 degrees using an oven, microwave, or stovetop. Soups, stews, and gravies should be brought to a rolling boil before eating.
For more information check out this video on slow cooker safety!
Texas A&M AgriLife Food & Nutrition Extension. Slow Cooker Safety. Jenna Anding, Ph.D., RD, LD.