Cooling and Reheating Prepared Foods

As Certified Food Managers, you know how to keep food safe from pathogens:
  • keep refrigerators at or below 41°F
  • keep food properly iced when not refrigerated
  • keep steam table temperatures at 135°F or higher
Even though we take all precautions to keep foods at a safe temperature, there are times when the risk of contamination is unavoidable, like when food is cooled after being cooked, or reheated after being refrigerated. It is important during these processes that they be done quickly to avoid the risk of contamination.

In accordance with the Health Department Food Code, potentially hazardous foods shall be cooled as follows:
  1. Within 2 hours, from 135°F to 70°F
  2. Within 6 hours, from 135°F to 41°F or less
In addition to time requirements for cooling cooked foods, there are requirements for cooling foods when mixing them with room temperature ingredients. When potentially hazardous foods that have been properly cooled are mixed with room temperature ingredients, such as canned tuna for example, the final product must also be rapidly cooled. The temperature must be 41°F in no more than 4 hours before placing them in cold holding units such as Bain maries and salad bars. These units will only maintain temperature at best, and are not designed to rapidly cool items. To achieve 41°F or less in 4 hours, all ingredients may need to be refrigerated prior to beginning preparation. By regulation, cooling shall be accomplished by using one or more of the following methods, based on the type of food being cooled:
  • place the food in shallow pans
  • separate the food into smaller or thinner portions
  • use rapid cooling equipment
  • stir the food in a container placed in an ice water bath
  • use containers that facilitate heat transfer
  • Add ice as an ingredient
  • other effective methods such as using an ice wand
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Food that has already been prepared and will be reheated for hot holding and/or serving will again pass through the temperature danger zone. It is important that all foods are rapidly reheated to reduce the amount of time in the danger zone. The Food Code requires potentially hazardous food that is cooked, cooled and reheated for hot holding to be reheated so that all parts of the food reach a temperature of at least 165°F for 15 seconds. Food then must then maintain a temperature of 135°F or higher.

Compliance with these requirements is important to ensure the safety of the food served to your customers. Use stem-type thermometers and log time and temperature to help establish an organized and routine HACCP system. Finally, train all employees in these processes to keep your food safe and your facility in compliance with CCHD's Food Code.