Temperature Control: The Secret to Food Safety

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Temperature Control: The Secret to Food Safety

Did you know that most food illness is the result of poor temperature control?

Picture this: your favorite dish is sizzling away, undergoing a transformation as it’s heated to perfection. What you might not know is that this process isn’t just about taste – it’s a pathogen destroying process. Properly cooked food is the result of exposing it to a sufficiently high temperature for a specific period, ensuring those harmful microbes are defeated.

But wait, there’s more! Even after cooking to the correct temperature, food can become dangerous if left for too long in the temperature Danger Zone where bacteria grow quickest. What is the Danger Zone? It is from 4°C to 60°C (40°F to 140°F). Yes, you read that right – bacteria can still grow and multiply even after food is ready to eat. That’s why you want to serve them immediately to minimize the time your dishes spend in the danger zone.

When it comes to cooking and after cooking, time and temperature are the two most controllable factors in preventing foodborne illness, let’s see how to master them.

Cooking to the proper temperature
Cooking temperature can vary for meats, poultry, and fish. A steak, for example, can be safely consumed at an internal temperature of 63°C (145°F), a whole chicken should be cooked to 82°C (180°F), but chicken pieces, like the breast or thigh should reach 74°C (165°F).

Trying to remember the different temperature requirements is difficult so it’s wise to download a copy of a cooking temperature chart like the one issued by Health Canada and available here.

You may hear of “hacks” to check if your food is cooked, but keep in mind that the ONLY way to make sure it’s cooked properly is with a food thermometer.

To ensure your dishes are not just delicious but also safe to eat, you’ll need two essential tools: a reliable food thermometer and the know-how to use it effectively to check different types of foods. The golden rule of temperature monitoring is simple: always insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the food and wait for the recommended interval. Avoid contact with bones, gristle, or fat, as these can give false readings.

Here’s a quick reference guide for different food types:

  • Thin foods: Insert the thermometer into the side of the food, all the way to the middle.
  • Sauces and stews: Insert the thermometer at least two inches into the food. Give it a good stir before taking the temperature to ensure uniformity.
  • Casseroles and combination dishes: Insert the thermometer into the thickest portion of the food or centre of the dish.
  • Eggs and dishes containing ground meat or poultry: Check several places. Check multiple spots to ensure thorough cooking and safety.
  • Microwaved food: Microwaves cook unevenly so dishes should be covered, stirred, and rotated while cooking to promote even heating. Then check the temperature.

To avoid cross-contamination remember to wash your thermometer thoroughly with hot, soapy water, and sanitize it before using it again. 

Temperature control after cooking
Ensuring food remains safe from the moment it’s cooked to the time it’s served is vital in the culinary world. Here are some essential tips to follow:

  • Keep hot foods hot: If you can’t serve cooked food immediately, use warming trays, slow cookers, or chafing dishes to keep foods at or above 60°C (140°F) until served; this is referred to the “hot holding” temperature and is the holding temperature for right after food is cooked.
  • Reheat foods right: When reheating cooked food (leftovers), reheat to an internal temperature of at least 74°C (165°F) for 15 seconds or more; this is the “reheating” temperature. Note the difference between the “reheating” temperature and the “hot holding” temperature.
  • Stay away from the Danger Zone: Cooked food can become a bacterial or toxic nightmare if left in the Danger Zone for too long. Foodborne intoxication is when bacteria can form a toxin that sometimes even reheating can’t destroy. Throw out any food that has been in the Danger Zone for two hours or more.

Following these tips and using a thermometer will keep the food you prepare safe to consume. Bon appétit!