For most of the year, my slow cooker stays on the shelf in my kitchen. But, when the Super Bowl approaches, I always pull it out to make chili, meatballs, or other hot party foods. he thing that I love about a slow cooker is that it can cook food safely and help me save time while I’m busy preparing for the big game.
This time of year, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline receives lots of questions related to slow cooking. Sometimes we hear about really scary mistakes that people make when they’re preparing slow cooked food. To make sure that you and your party guests stay safe, I wanted to share a few of these slow cooker questions and answers.
I placed my meat in the slow cooker and then forgot to turn it on. It was off for 6 hours before I discovered it. Is it still safe? If I cook it, will that destroy any bacteria and make it safe?
Unfortunately, the meat is not safe, even if you cook it. Perishable food left in the “Danger Zone” (between 40 °F and 140 °F) for more than 2 hours should be discarded even though it may look and smell good.
After I made chili in my slow cooker, I poured it in a large bowl and put it in the refrigerator to cool overnight. When I checked it this morning, I noticed that it’s still warm in the center. Is it still safe?
This caller was very disappointed to learn that the chili was not safe. If you’re making a large pot of soup, chili, or stew, store it in shallow containers that enable the food to cool quickly in the fridge. Always refrigerate cooked food within two hours after the cooking is finished. Don’t let it sit on the counter to cool.
Is it safe to reheat food like pork BBQ in a slow cooker?
We do NOT recommend reheating food or leftovers in a slow cooker. Instead, we advise callers to reheat cooked food to steaming on the stove top or in a microwave oven. Then, you can put it into a preheated slow cooker to keep it hot for serving. Use a food thermometer to be sure the food stays at 140 °F. or above.
I usually put my frozen meatballs directly in the slow cooker to start cooking, but my best friend says that’s not safe. Who’s right?
You’re very lucky to have a best friend who is also food safe! Your friend is right. All ingredients that you place into a slow cooker should be thawed first. Keep thawed food and other perishable food refrigerated until you’re ready to start cooking.
For more information about using slow cookers safely, check out these resources:
If you have any other questions, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov (English and Spanish).
Many parents are discovering that homemade baby foods can be a nutritious and often more economical alternative to baby foods available in stores. To ensure that the food is safe for your growing infant, follow these simple steps for selecting, preparing, and storing food.
Always begin with good quality ingredients. It’s best to use fresh food whenever possible, but you can also use frozen or canned foods. If you’re using processed fruits and vegetables, try to find products without added sugar, especially canned fruit packed in syrup.
Never feed these products to your baby or use them in homemade baby food:
- Dairy products made from raw, unpasteurized milk (may contain bacteria that can cause serious illnesses)
- Honey (puts your baby at high risk for botulism, a very dangerous illness)
- Home-canned food (may contain harmful bacteria if it was canned improperly)
- Outdated canned food
- Food from dented, rusted, bulging, or leaking cans or jars
- Food from cans or jars without labels
Preparing Baby Food
Because infants are at a higher risk of getting a foodborne illness than older children or healthy adults, it’s particularly important to follow these guidelines carefully:
- Wash your hands and any equipment used to prepare the food.
- Use separate cutting boards for meat, poultry and fish and for non-meat foods to avoid cross-contamination.
- Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly under clean, running water. Even if you plan to peel a fruit or vegetable, such as cantaloupe or squash, be sure to wash it first.
- Store raw meats, poultry, fish, and dairy products in the coldest part of the refrigerator immediately after purchase.
- Cook meat, poultry, and fish thoroughly to kill any bacteria that might be present. Be sure to use a meat thermometer and cook all meats to an internal temperature of at least 160 ºF, fish to at least 145 ºF, and all white meat poultry to an internal temperature of at least 165 ºF. Check the Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart to be sure.
Storing and Reheating Baby Food
First and foremost: always throw away any uneaten leftover food in the baby’s dish!
Other ways to keep your baby’s food safe:
- Never allow cooked food to stand at room temperature for more than 2 hours (or more than one hour when the temperature is above 90 degrees)
- Do not store prepared baby food in the refrigerator for more than 24 hours for meat, poultry, fish, and eggs or more than 48 hours for fruits and vegetables.
- Thoroughly reheat refrigerated or frozen food to an internal temperature of 165 ºF.
- Never defrost baby foods by leaving them at room temperature or in standing water.
To freeze prepared baby food safely, put it into labeled and dated containers. You may freeze it for up to one month.
For more information, check these resources:
- Baby Food and Infant Formula (FoodSafety.gov)
Get the basics on baby food safety.
- Home-Prepared Baby Food (USDA)
This booklet provides excellent tips on preparing all sorts of baby foods.
What is one of the most important thing you can do to fight food poisoning? Here are a few hints:
- It takes only 20 seconds (if you do it the right way).
- It requires only 3 ingredients.
- Anyone can do it, even very young children.
The answer is Wash Your Hands. Over and over again, studies have shown that handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness—including foodborne illness.
Wash Your Hands the Right Way
When you wash your hands the right way, it takes only 20 seconds and requires only three ingredients: running water, soap, and something to dry your hands (a clean towel or air).
Here’s how to do it:
- Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
- Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.
And here’s when to do it:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal or animal waste
- After touching garbage
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
What About Hand Sanitizers?
Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them. But, if soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer.
Important: Hand sanitizers are not effective if your hands are visibly dirty.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.
Always use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Here’s how to use hand sanitizer properly:
- Apply the product to the palm of one hand.
- Rub your hands together.
- Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry.
For more information on handwashing, check out these resources:
- Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives
- CDC Kidtastics Podcast: All You Have to Do Is Wash Your Hands
- Video: Put Your Hands Together