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Food Prep and Storage

Keep food safe with time and temperature control

Kathy Brandt

A leading cause of foodborne illness is time and temperature abuse of TCS (food requiring time and temperature control for safety) foods. TCS foods are time and temperature abused any time they’re in the temperature danger zone, 41°F to 140°F. This occurs when food is: not cooked to the recommended minimum internal temperature, not held at the proper temperature, or not cooled or reheated properly.

The longer food is in the temperature danger zone, the more time pathogens have to grow. The goal is to reduce the amount of time TCS food spends in the temperature danger zone. If food is held in this range for four or more hours, you must throw it out. It’s better to check temps every two hours and take corrective action when needed.

Time and temperature

Do you get confused over all the specific time and temperature requirements? For a quick and reliable reference, print a copy of MDH Fact Sheet, Temperature Requirements for Potentially Hazardous Foods. All the following times and temps are included.       

Cold holding

Cold foods must be maintained at 41°F or less

MDA poster for proper cold holding of food

Cooking temperatures

Eggs for immediate service, and except as otherwise required, fish, meat, and commercially raised game animals must be cooked to 145°F or above for 15 seconds

Chopped or ground meat, fish, and commercially raised game animals; pork; injected meats; and eggs cooked for hot holding must be cooked to: 155°F or above for 15 seconds, or 150°F or
above for one minute, or 145°F or above for three minutes.

Poultry, stuffed food products, stuffing containing fish, meat or poultry and wild game animals must be cooked to 165°F or above for 15 seconds.

Microwave cooking

Time and temperature control for safety foods cooked in a microwave must be cooked to 165°F. The product must be covered, and rotated or stirred during the cooking process. After cooking, allow two minutes stand time before serving.

Hot holding temperatures

Hot food must be maintained at 140°F or above.

Cooling foods

Foods must be cooled from 140°F to 70°F within two hours and from 70°F to 41°F within an additional four hours. The goal is to cool foods as quickly as possible.

MDA poster for proper cooling of foods

Reheating foods

Food that is reheated must reach a minimum internal temperature of at least 165°F for 15 seconds. Reheating must be done rapidly and the minimum temperature must be reached within two hours. Steam tables, warmers, or similar equipment do not heat food quickly enough and must not be used for reheating food.

Tools for temperature control

Remember it’s your responsibility to provide the training and the tools your staff needs to monitor time and temperature. They need to learn what to do, how to do it, why it’s important, and if necessary, what corrective action to take. Along with training, provide thermometers and temperature logs for successful monitoring.

If you need help with selecting the right thermometers for your business, Iowa State University Extension has developed an excellent resource, Thermometer Use in Retail Foodservice Establishments. Click on the link to download a free copy. It provides details of commonly used temperature-sensing devices and how to use them to ensure food safety and quality.


Related resources

Reviewed by Suzanne Driessen 2016

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