Stop Bacteria Growth, Cool Hot Food Quickly

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Cooling hot foods is a very important and difficult task for most restaurants. Hot foods that won’t be served right away must be rapidly cooled down and stored in a cold-holding unit below 41° Fahrenheit (F). If this process is done improperly, bacteria will grow, leading to poisoning customers who eat the contaminated food. Reheating will kill some bacteria, but other bacteria form spores and toxins that are heat stable and won’t be killed in the reheating process. Having an effective cooling process will help protect the quality of the food as well as provide a good defense against foodborne illness.

Proper Cooling Times and Temperatures

Food must be cooled from 140° F to 70° F in the first 2 hours, then 70° F to 41° F or below in the next 4 hours. That gives a total of 6 hours to go from 140° F to 41° F.

Good Cooling Practices

There are many ways to cool food rapidly. The best way is to use a blast chiller, but since most restaurants can’t afford one, let’s focus on more practical ways to cool hot food.

  1. Break down the food into smaller pans or containers. By reducing the size of the product, it will cool more quickly.
  2. Use ice. Ice wands work very well when placed in the center of the product. Also, after breaking down the product into smaller pans, put the pans in an ice bath and stir regularly. This process can be very effective, but be sure to keep adding more ice as it begins to melt.
  3. Make sure your cooling unit has the capacity to cool hot food. The ambient temperature should be between 35–38° F. Smaller cold-holding units generally don’t have the capacity to cool food; they only have the ability to keep cold food cold. The walk-in cooler is a better choice.
  4. Monitor the temperature. Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the cooling product. It’s important to make sure the food is reaching the proper temperature in the time necessary. Using data loggers can be very useful here. They can show minute by minute how effective the cooling process is and provide proof that the food was cooled in the proper time if ever called into question.
  5. Maintain a cooling log. If you’re monitoring the temperature, write it down on a log. You won’t be able to prove that the food was cooled properly unless it is documented. This can be helpful if the food is suspected of making people sick. Respro’s Cooling Log is an excellent resource to help you. Follow the link or find it in the Manager’s Toolbox.

Foodborne Illness Outbreaks Linked to Improper Cooling

The CDC reported that improper cooling of food leads to 40% of foodborne illness. Here are some links to some of these cases:

Restaurant Shigella Poisoning Nothing New—200 Ill, One Dead in 2000

Clostridium Perfringens at Central Louisiana Hospital: What Went Wrong?

Clostridium Perfringens Infection Among Inmates at a County Jail

 

If any one of these scenarios happens to your restaurant, it could mean the end. Protect your business by being proactive in fighting bacteria growth, and always cool food quickly.

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