COOLING FOOD POSTER

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Cooling food

 

Cooling food is a critical phase in maintaining the safety of food products between cooking and refrigeration.

  • Cooked foods must be properly cooled to maintain food safety before refrigeration.
  • Foods must be cooled from 135°F to 70°F in the first two hours and must reach 41°F or less in the next 4 hours.
  • Monitor cooling food methods using the digital Food Safety Management System at FoodDocs.

Properly cooling food is a key operation in maintaining food safety in any food business. When done properly, the expected shelf life of the food product can be achieved and potentially optimized. Cooling food after processing requires close monitoring to become successful. If unregulated, the cooling process can become an introduction point for food contamination and spoilage. This potential hazard makes cooling foods a critical operation for food handlers.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that summarized information from 1998 to 2008, at least 504 foodborne illness outbreaks originated from restaurants due to improperly cooled foods. This ten years' worth of data shows how important it is for a food safety team to learn how to cool foods properly. As part of the process, food handlers must become aware of the risks that could affect the safety of food during cooling.

 

Learn about how you can keep foods safe and the most efficient method to monitor cooling processes from this article.

 

 

Temperatures for safely cooling foods

To remain safe after cooking, the food must reach 70°F within the first 2 hours and continue cooling until it reaches 41°F within 4 hours. Food handlers must familiarize themselves with these two points to maintain food safety. The food industry often identifies this process as the two-stage cooling method

The main objective of cooling foods to a particular temperature range within a given time frame is to prevent the food from staying too long in the temperature danger zone, which is 40°F to 140°F. Within this temperature range, foods are more likely to spoil faster as the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms is favored. 

Using rapid cooling methods, the potentially contaminating microorganisms will not have enough time to reproduce to exceedingly dangerous levels. The growth of bacteria and other microorganisms is slowed down at lower temperatures, hindering their ability to digest the food and creating unwanted and unsafe changes in the food.

 

 

Temperatures for safely cooling foods

To remain safe after cooking, the food must reach 70°F within the first 2 hours and continue cooling until it reaches 41°F within 4 hours. Food handlers must familiarize themselves with these two points to maintain food safety. The food industry often identifies this process as the two-stage cooling method

The main objective of cooling foods to a particular temperature range within a given time frame is to prevent the food from staying too long in the temperature danger zone, which is 40°F to 140°F. Within this temperature range, foods are more likely to spoil faster as the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms is favored. 

Using rapid cooling methods, the potentially contaminating microorganisms will not have enough time to reproduce to exceedingly dangerous levels. The growth of bacteria and other microorganisms is slowed down at lower temperatures, hindering their ability to digest the food and creating unwanted and unsafe changes in the food.

 
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The 3 acceptable methods for cooling food

The methods used for cooling food must be able to do the job as fast as possible or within the prescribed time without sacrificing the food's quality. In addition, the preferred method must not become the source of contamination during cooling

With these considerations at hand, cooling foods at room temperature by leaving them on the countertop is not an acceptable method for cooling. 

The best cooling methods include operations that are fast, clean, and efficient, such as the following:

  • Using blast chillers. Blast chillers or tumbler chillers are commercial pieces of equipment solely used to reduce the temperature of foods quickly. For cooling processes, the product can be removed before ice crystals are formed. These machines use cold air that is forced against the food to cool them rapidly. 
  • Ice-water bath. This method is efficient for solid dishes or foods with cuts of solid ingredients that cannot be watered down. The food being cooled is either placed in a ziplock bag or deep basin and is placed over an ice-water mixture to help the temperatures equilibrate. The ice and cold water mixture will help cool the food through conduction.
  • Ice paddles or ice cubes. These methods use ice that will come in contact with the food. Ice paddles are kitchen utensils filled with ice cubes and water and are stirred around the food to distribute the cold temperature. On the other hand, foods, such as soups and gravies, can be filled with ice cubes directly as the added water will evaporate after reheating. 

These methods are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and are considered safe, provided that food handlers follow proper food safety measures. Such measures include isolating the food from other potentially contaminating objects and using only purified and clean water for cooling. 

All approved methods for cooling food products require close monitoring to ensure food safety. The entire process must be done within a maximum time of 6 hours. After this allotted time, the cooled food must be kept inside the refrigerator or freezer with consistent monitoring.

To always stay on top of monitoring the temperature of both cooling and food storage, use our digital solution at FoodDocs. Using our digital Food Safety Management System, you can get automatically generated food safety monitoring logs and an intuitive notification system to ensure that monitoring tasks are always done on time. 

Which method for cooling foods should not be used?

At some point, you may have thought of leaving your food on the countertop for cooling and returning to it after a while. The problem is this method is very prone to food contamination and spoilage. This method exposes the high-risk food longer to the temperature danger zone

When foods are left to cool at ambient temperature, whether protected from external contamination or not, they are still exposed to the temp danger zone. Any leftover pathogen may have the opportunity to recover and proliferate as the food cools down at ambient temperature. 

 

Another method for cooling foods that should not be a common practice in your food business is cooling hot foods inside the refrigerator or freezer. Not only is this method dangerous for the food being cooled, but for the other foods inside the refrigerator as well.

When hot foods are placed inside the refrigerator as proper food storage, cooling may be faster than leaving it at ambient temperature. Despite this, the temperature inside the cooling unit will decrease from the heat expelled by the hot food. Foodborne pathogens can contaminate and spoil the food as the refrigerator temperature returns to its preset specifications. The other cold food products can also get spoiled during this time, especially high-risk hazardous food. Frozen foods can also thaw and be prone to contamination.

 

When cooling food, what is the maximum time?

The entire process of cooling perishable food must be achieved within the maximum time of 6 hours. This maximum time applies to all high-risk or time/temperature control for safety (TCS) food. 

The allotted time for safe cooling food is divided into two parts, as suggested in the two-stage cooling process. For the first two hours, the hot food must be cooled from 135°F to 70°F. Within the next four hours, the food temperature must reach 41°F or less to ensure food safety.

What affects the safety of the food cooling process?

Although the food cooling process is performed in the interest of food safety, the process is not immune to contamination. If done incorrectly, food spoilage can still occur. 

Below are factors that every food handler must consider to ensure that the cooling process is correct and will achieve its objective:
  1. Time of cooling. As previously mentioned, the entire cooling process must be completed within a maximum time of 6 hours. Beyond this time frame, the risk of food spoilage becomes significantly increased. Some cooling methods are more appropriate for certain food types. For example, if you are cooling a big batch of thick soup, using the blast chiller may take more time than using ice paddles or ice cubes. As such, food handlers must assess which method would be most efficient for cooling.
  2. Temperature. This factor is what needs to be closely monitored during cooling. The temperature of the food will dictate whether it is ready for refrigeration or is still within the critical time period. Inaccurate temperature readings may lead the food handler to believe that the food can already be refrigerated when the core is still hot, and it can still significantly affect the cooling unit's temperature.
  3. Thickness or density of the food. The efficiency and safety of the cooling process are significantly affected by the thickness, arrangement, or density of the food being cooled. Thick cuts or a large mass of food would generally take a longer time to cool down. While the core of the food is still hot, the exterior portion may already be exposed to the temperature danger zone. The thicker or denser the food, the slower the core heat will expel. As such, foods must be divided into smaller portions to speed up the process.
  4. Food container. Different packaging materials for food containers conduct heat differently. For food mixtures being cooled using the ice bath method, a stainless steel bowl will cool the mixture faster than a thick plastic container. 
  5. Applied external force. This factor applies to cooling methods that use stirring. Cooked foods naturally have different temperatures throughout their composition. Heat can sometimes be trapped in the middle point of the food, especially for thick products. To avoid this from happening, external force through stirring or mixing is applied to redistribute the heat throughout the liquid food and facilitate the cooling process.
  6. Food handler training. This factor is a significant point that must be highlighted. The proficiency of food handlers in preparing the cooked food correctly, cooling, sanitation, and monitoring can determine the success of the entire process. Food handlers with insufficient training can increase the likelihood of contamination.
Other factors, such as the cleanliness of the tools and water you are using, will also affect the safety of the process. Food handlers must consistently practice food hygiene to avoid the likelihood of contamination. They must also always be alert and on time to monitor the temperature of foods to ensure that the process is still on track. 

Why should you monitor temperatures when cooling food?

Monitoring the cooling process ensures that the operation is free of contamination and will not be subjected to unfavorable conditions until it is completed. Monitoring includes temperature reading and recording the measurements.
Since the cooling method's completion and safety significantly depend on the temperature and efficiency of the process, inaccurate monitoring is a critical threat to the process. Achieving the target temperatures within the prescribed time will determine whether the food was exposed to the temperature danger zone. 
 
Consistent monitoring will significantly reduce the opportunity for pathogens to reproduce. It is also an essential task to allow food handlers to address any concerns immediately. For example, if the internal temperature of the food is still at 24°C, the food handler can exert extra effort to speed up the process and achieve the final target temperature earlier.
Use a temperature log and a properly calibrated accurate food thermometer to monitor the cooling process and the temperature of food.

An intuitive solution to monitor cooling food methods

As highlighted in this article, monitoring the process of cooling food is a critical task. Failure to cool foods correctly can increase your customers' risk of food poisoning. Consistent monitoring must be done in intervals until the cooling process is accomplished. 
Throughout the process, monitoring and recording the temperature of your foods will be done multiple times, and if you have large batches of prepared foods, you will need to perform these tasks more. Doing these repetitive tasks can take away your time from monitoring other important areas in your food business.
 
You need an intuitive solution that can help you record the cooling temperature data while ensuring that the information is accurate and the food is safe. Fulfill this objective and consistently maintain food safety using our digital solution at FoodDocs. 
 
With a few easy steps, you can get a smart, digital Food Safety Management System equipped with the following features and benefits:
 
  • Get automatically generated monitoring logs and checklists that are most relevant to your operations, such as monitoring your cooling operations. Monitoring logs, such as our Temperature Log, are automatically produced through artificial intelligence and are ready for use.
Temperature log instructions in FoodDocs app

Temperature log with instructions from FoodDocs

 

  • All generated monitoring logs and checklists come with detailed instructions on how to perform and monitor the task. Use these instructions to ensure that food handlers know the key points for cooling food. 
  • Use our mobile application, which features a smart notification system. This feature sends alerts to food handlers, reminding them of any upcoming task. Never forget to monitor cooling methods with intuitive alerts.
  • The software can be integrated with smart sensors from digital equipment, such as blast chillers. The information is automatically uploaded into the monitoring log, saving the food handlers' time.
In addition to features that help food handlers with cooling operations, our digital food safety management system software can help managers improve supervision efficiency.
  •  Set up your digital Food Safety Monitoring System by simply answering basic questions about your operations. In just 15 minutes, you can immediately establish the system for your operations.
  • Using our real-time dashboard, save at least 20% of your time from supervising your team. This feature reflects an overview of your daily operations where you can immediately identify areas that need to be addressed.
  • Get secure cloud storage dedicated to your food business.
Allow our digital Food Safety Monitoring System to take care of the repetitive, everyday tasks so you can focus on the other aspects of your food business. Using artificial intelligence and a machine-learning program, you will get a monitoring system tailored to the nature of your operations.
You can further improve the monitoring system according to your needs, as it can be customized. Maintain compliance with food safety regulations most efficiently by using our digital solutions. Start your food safety compliance journey today with our free 14-day trial.

 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have more questions regarding this topic? Here are a few frequently asked questions on cooling food methods.

 

Why should you cool hot food quickly?

During the cooling of hot foods, there is a window period for opportunistic pathogens to contaminate and spoil the food. This is especially true once the hot food reaches the temperature danger zone of 40°F and 140°F, respectively. 

At the temperature danger zone, foodborne pathogens can optimally multiply to unfavorable numbers and spoil the food. Cooling food from 135°F to 70°F in the first two hours and down to 41°F or less in the next 4 hours ensures that the food stays safe. 

 

Which of these methods is not safe for cooling food?

Among the abovementioned methods in this article, hot foods must not be cooled using these two methods:

  • Leaving the food on the countertop at room temperature.

  • Cooling the hot food inside the refrigerator or freezer.

 

What is the best alternative to safely cooling foods?

If you do not have a commercial blast freezer, an ice bath is a good alternative cooling method. Cooling food is placed in a shallow, secure stainless steel bowl and on top of an ice bath. The food is then stirred in intervals, and the temperature is monitored consistently.

Some ovens are equipped with a cooling feature. With this equipment, you can keep the hot food inside as it cools down.

 

What are the risks when cooling food?

When cooling foods, the system can be contaminated or spoiled. The following factors play a significant role in keeping the safety of the food being cooled:

  • Temperature danger zone
  • Inaccurate temperature measurement
  • Inefficient cooling
  • Cross-contamination

 

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