Fight Foodborne Illness: Know the Right Temperature


All restaurants battle with the problem of keeping food in temperature. Knowing the right temperatures for food is key in fighting foodborne illness. Temperature abuse is the most difficult problem to control in the kitchen and can have the worst consequences. All potentially hazardous foods (for example, meats, pastas, cooked foods, cut tomatoes, melons, and cut leafy greens) must not be held between 41⁰ F–135⁰ F. This is what is called the danger zone. If these foods are held in this zone, bacteria that is already present will begin to grow. This is what leads to foodborne illness.

What factors are keeping you from controlling temperatures?

Equipment: Old, unmaintained, broken, damaged

Staff: Untrained, lack of proper tools (thermometers), bad habits, don’t care

Management: No oversight, lack of commitment

Money: Little or no money to fix problems

What can be done to address temperature abuse?

Evaluate your equipment. Are your condensers cleaned and checked regularly? Do the doors seal properly? Are gaskets clean and not damaged?

Provide food safety training for employees. Employees should know proper holding temperatures. Training can help them know what to do if food is out of temperature. Set policies for regular line checks (3 times a day is best).

Have managers follow up. Managers must make sure employees are following procedures. It’s important for everyone to understand the possible effects of foodborne illness. The “CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.” (

If money isn’t available to pay for replacement equipment, there are other options:

  • Use time marking: Foods can be held in the danger zone for 4–6 hours if held below 70⁰ F but must be discarded after.
  • Use ice baths: This is labor intensive but can be effective at keeping food cold.
  • Use metal pans, not plastic: Plastic can act as an insulator from cold air. Metal conducts cold air better.

Keeping your food out of the danger zone should be one of your most important duties in the kitchen. Incorporating a sound policy and training your employees will go a long way in solving these problems.

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