Electric Slow-Cooking and Food Safety Precautions
by Betsy Crisp, M.S., L.D.
Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Agent
|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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Always read and follow the
instructions in the manufacturer's "use and care" book that
came with your particular brand/model.
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