Electric Slow-Cooking and Food Safety Precautions

by Betsy Crisp, M.S., L.D.
Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Agent

 

After reading the following article, check out three electric slow-cooking demonstration recipes adapted by Betsy Crisp.
In our fast-paced society, it is always rewarding to discover a time-saving tool to make our lives less hectic.  Cooking and serving nutritious meals while dealing with all the other daily responsibilities doesn't have to add to that time-crunch frustration.  Planning ahead and using your electric slow-cooker can help you serve hot meals on time and save energy, too!

Because this small appliance cooks at a lower temperature for a longer period of time, some individuals question the safety of utilizing this equipment.  There are several steps that you can take to decrease any food safety risks as long as the power is not disrupted.

The average slow-cooker/crock pot cooks at approximately 200° F. on low and 300° F. on high.  Bacteria thrive at temperatures below 140° F.; therefore, you want to be very careful not to do anything that might affect the cooking temperature and cause it to drop.  In addition, most bacteria are killed at 165° F.  So, as long as the lid is left on and the food is cooked for the proper time, and if the power does not go out, food will be safe to eat.

Here are some simple guidelines to follow when using your electric slow-cooker.

  • Do not allow ingredients to sit out on the counter at room temperature.  Keep all perishable ingredients in the refrigerator until you are ready to start cooking.
  • Do not refrigerate uncooked meat/poultry in the crock/stoneware bowl before cooking, because the crock will become very cold and slow the cooking process.
  • Start with a clean crock, clean utensils, and a clean work area.
  • Package raw meats and vegetables separately, if preparing them in advance, and do not assemble/mix them together until you are ready to cook.  Be sure to wash hands before and between preparation steps to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Never partially cook meat/poultry and then finish cooking later.  If you defrost ingredients in a microwave or sauté meat/vegetables, do so just before adding to the slow-cooker.
  • Most slow-cookers heat from the sides instead of the bottom as in stove-top cooking.  For best results, the crock or pot should be at least half full of ingredients and no more than three-fourths.
  • Do not use the slow-cooker for large cuts of meat, such as a roast or whole chicken.  It is best to cut large pieces of meat into smaller ones, so that heat penetrates through the meat more quickly.  This will also help speed up the cooking process.
  • For most recipes, you should start cooking on high for the first 60 minutes to allow ingredients to heat rapidly and move above 140° F. and out of the "danger zone" before turning the dial to low for extended slow-cooking.  If you are going to leave the house/cooker unattended, it is best to set the dial on low.  If you are at home and in a hurry to speed up the process, you can turn the pot on high for the last one to two hours.  Generally, one hour on high is equal to two hours on low.
  • Stirring is not required for slow-cooking.  Do not lift the lid during cooking process.  It takes approximately 20 minutes to recover the lost heat which increases food safety risk and extends required cooking time.
  • Check for doneness of meats with a quick-read thermometer (i.e. 180° F. for poultry).
  • Avoid using large quantities of frozen foods (i.e. no more than one cup of frozen vegetables added to a pot of hot soup) in your slow cooker, or better yet, defrost/cook frozen food items just before adding to the pot.
  • Refrigerate leftovers quickly―within two hours of serving.  Break down large amounts into smaller containers before placing into refrigerator.  Never store leftovers in the crock.
  • Never use a crock pot to reheat foods.  Reheating should be done on top of the stove or in a microwave oven to make sure that a minimum of 165° F. internal temperature is reached.  To ensure food safety, the contents of a recipe should be brought to a boil before further cooking/holding in a slow-cooker.  Preheat the slow-cooker before adding hot foods to avoid breaking crock.
  • Always read and follow the instructions in the manufacturer's "use and care" book that came with your particular brand/model.
Sources:
The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes by Judith Finlayson"
Smart Crockery Cooking by Carol Hedine
Crocker Favorites by Mable Hoffman
FOCUS ON:  Slow Cooker Safety by FSIS/USDA
Electric Crock Pot