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Slow Cooker Safety Tips

Turn the cooker on High for the first hour and then to Low or the setting called for in your recipe.

When planning ahead slow cookers can save time - and use less electricity than an oven. Play it safe by following these slow cooker safety tips from the Food Safety and Inspection Service, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 

Is a slow cooker safe?

Yes, the slow cooker cooks foods slowly at a low temperature, generally between 170 degrees and 280 degrees F. The low heat helps leaner cuts of meat become tender and shrink less.

The direct heat from the pot, lengthy cooking, and steam created within the tightly covered container combine to destroy bacteria and make the slow cooker a safe process for cooking foods.

 

Safe beginnings

  • Begin with a clean cooker, clean utensils, and a clean work area.
  • Wash your hands before and during food preparation.
  • Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time.
  • If you cut up meat and vegetables in advance, store them separately in the refrigerator.
  • The slow cooker may take several hours to reach a safe, bacteria-killing temperature.

 

Thaw & cut up ingredients

  • Always defrost meat or poultry before placing it into the slow cooker.
  • Choose to make foods with high-moisture content such as chili, soup, stew, or spaghetti sauce.
  • Cut food into chunks to ensure thorough cooking.
  • Don't use the slow cooker for large pieces like a roast or whole chicken because the food will cook so slowly it could remain in the bacterial danger zone too long.

 

Fill with the right amount

  • Fill the cooker no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full.
  • Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry in a slow cooker. If using vegetables, place them at the bottom and around sides of the utensil. Then add meat and cover the food with liquid such as broth, water, or barbecue sauce.
  • Keep the lid in place, removing only to stir the food or check for doneness.

 

Settings

  • Most cookers have two or more settings. Foods take different times to cook depending upon the setting used.
  • Certainly foods will cook faster on high than on low. However, for all-day cooking or for less-tender cuts, you may want to use the low setting.
  • If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe.
  • However, it's safe to cook foods on low the entire time - if you're leaving for work, for example, and preparation time is limited.
  • After your food is cooked, it will stay safe as long as the cooker is operating.

 

Power outage

  • If you're not at home during the entire slow-cooking process and the power goes out, throw away the food - even if it looks done.
  • If you're at home, finish cooking the ingredients immediately using another method: gas stove, outdoor grill, or at a house where the power is on.
  • When you're at home and if the food was completely cooked before the power went out, the food should remain safe up to two hours.

 

Handling leftovers

  • Store leftovers in shallow covered containers and refrigerate within two hours after cooking.
  • Reheating leftovers in a slow cooker isn't recommended. However, cooked food can be brought to steaming on the stovetop or in a microwave oven and then placed into a preheated slow cooker to keep hot for serving.

 

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