Food safety

What is the maximum cold holding temperature? Temperatures for specific foods included

Cold holding is a critical operation in any food establishment for keeping high-risk foods safe for consumption.

Get your HACCP in
1 hour!

Sign up now

Create Your
Food Safety System
in 15 Minutes


Food Safety System
in 15 min

Cold holding is a critical operation in any food establishment for keeping high-risk foods safe for consumption.

In a fast-paced restaurant environment, several tasks are critical for food safety compliance. One of which is cold-holding high-risk foods. This food safety approach is widely used in the food industry for preserving the safety and quality of highly perishable foods.

Cold holding makes it possible for food businesses to serve fresh fruits, vegetables, and deli meats in a salad bar without the risk of causing foodborne illness.

In this article, we discuss the cold holding procedures in-depth and introduce ways how to maintain food safety consistently.

Key points from this article

  1. The maximum cold-holding temperature for high-risk foods is 41°F (5°C) or below.

  2. Different food products may require lower and more specific cold-holding temperatures for safety. E.g. Fish and seafood require a lower maximum cold-holding temperature.

  3. Cold-holding food ensures that the dishes are away from the temperature danger zone and are stored in containers away from contamination.

  4. The cold-holding temperature must be consistently monitored to maintain effectiveness.

  5. Cold holding is important for any food business as it helps protect public health, preserve the quality of foods, reduce food waste, help comply with food regulations, and prevent food safety issues.

  6. Cold holding uses low temperatures to keep cold food cold, whereas hot holding is used to maintain high temperatures for hot foods.

  7. According to the most recent FDA Food Code, the cold-holding temperature must be monitored at least every 4 hours.

  8. You can use FoodDocs' smart Food Safety Management System to monitor cold-holding temperatures and ensure food safety compliance intuitively. You can get digital monitoring logs and a smart notification feature to help you consistently monitor your operations.

New call-to-action

What is the maximum cold-holding temperature?

The maximum cold-holding temperature for foods refers to the highest temperature at which foods can stay safe for prolonged periods.

At cold-holding temperatures, the growth of harmful bacteria is slowed. The most notable safe cold-holding temperature for the majority of perishable foods is 41°F (5°C) or below. At this temperature, the potential to cause foodborne illnesses is significantly low.

Maintaining the maximum cold holding temperature is a basic food safety practice and a critical task for any food business. Cold food temperature helps ensure that food supplies are optimized for use and prevent unnecessary food spoilage caused by harmful pathogens.

It is important to note that the maximum cold-holding temperatures may vary depending on the nature and composition of food items. Food service establishments must adhere to strict food safety regulations to prevent the spread of foodborne illness. Constant and regular monitoring is required to ensure food safety.

Download our free
cold-holding food poster


Importance of the cold-holding temperature in handling food

Cold-holding perishable food is a must for food businesses. Restaurants and other food establishments from the food industry handling high-risk foods identify cold holding as one of their critical control points.

The main idea of cold-holding food is keeping it away from the food temperature danger zone or ambient food temperature while storing it in an appropriate, airtight food container.

Here are some reasons to show the importance of cold-holding temperatures in food safety:
  1. Slows down the growth of harmful bacteria and pathogens. Cold food storage temperatures slow down the multiplication and growth of different pathogens. Cold-holding of food can keep the products safe by controlling the bacterial load to acceptable levels up to the serving time.
  2. Protects the quality of foods. Cold temperatures help prevent the deterioration of food quality, including its color, aroma, flavor, and texture. Low temperature stops food enzymes from breaking down the food. 
  3. Optimizes the shelf-life of foods. Properly storing foods in cold holding conditions can help prolong their shelf-life. In doing so, food business owners can use the ingredients before spoiling and maximize profit gains. Maintenance of cold holding conditions in food can help prevent food waste.
  4. Reduces the risk of causing foodborne illnesses. When cold holding temperatures are properly maintained, all food products that you serve are guaranteed to be safe and will not cause a foodborne illness outbreak.
  5. Complies with food safety regulations. Food safety agencies, whether local, federal, or state, all require that food must be held at proper storage conditions for safety. Failure to comply with essential food safety requirements on temperature holding can result in food safety issues and legal problems within the food supply chain.
  6. Prevents food safety recalls. Cold-holding helps protect foods from issues that may lead to unwanted food recalls, which can be very costly for your business. 

cold holding food in retail

Regular maintenance of safe cold holding temperature is crucial for preventing the growth of pathogens, preserving food quality, meeting regulatory requirements, and protecting consumers. Failure to maintain cold holding temperatures can result in several problems that can affect your food business brand. As such, all food handlers must be trained and oriented on maintaining cold-holding conditions.


Download Food Storage Chart to help you monitor the shelf-life

To help you maintain consistent cold-holding temperatures, use our smart software from FoodDocs. The Food Safety Management System automatically generates essential digital monitoring forms, such as Fridge Temperature Log, with detailed instructions. FoodDocs' smart software also features an intuitive notification system that alerts food handlers when there is a task that needs to be done.

Using our smart solutions, you can ensure that cold-holding temperatures are monitored and maintained at all times.

New call-to-action

Cold holding vs. Hot holding temperature

Cold-holding refers to storing foods at low temperatures, around 41°F (5°C) and below, whereas hot holding preserves food stored at 135°F (57°C) or above by stopping bacterial growth.

Hot-holding and cold-holding food temperatures are two temperature ranges for maintaining food safety. Each correct temperature range is intended for particular purposes and types of food.

The hot holding temperature is used for holding hot foods in conditions where bacteria and other pathogens cannot grow. Hot holding temperatures are often used for displaying foods for service, such as soups, meats, and prepared dishes. Hot and freshly prepared foods are hot-held at 135°F (57°C) or above using steam tables or warming trays.

These operations are required to meet regulatory standards for protecting public health. Food handlers must maintain the correct food temperatures consistently and correctly through constant monitoring.

Cold food should be held at what temperature?

Cold food items should always be held at 41°F (5°C) and below to maintain food safety by preventing the growth of foodborne illness-causing bacteria. At this temperature, both bacterial and enzymatic activities are slowed down, and the peak quality of food is preserved.

The cold holding temperature is maintained using appropriate machines and equipment, such as a refrigerator, refrigerated display, and coolers. Although a freezer is technically used for cold holding, its temperature is too low to use for displaying ready-to-eat foods. Along with these cold-holding machines, a calibrated digital food thermometer must always be available.

How to use a food thermometer

See tips on how to use a thermometer to check the internal temperature

The best interval for measuring the temperature of cold-holding high-risk food products is at least every four hours. This is based on the guidelines provided by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which aim to ensure that food is held at the appropriate temperature (below 41°F or 5°C).

It is also important to note that the interval of measuring cold holding temperature may vary. You can monitor the temperature every two hours if the food is very high-risk. This option also ensures greater food safety.

Remembering when to monitor cold-holding units can be a burden for your employees. As such, you can use our Food Safety Management System, which features a smart notification system. Using our mobile app, the employees assigned to check the cold-holding temperature will receive alerts reminding them of the task. Using this feature, you can ensure that all food safety tasks are done on time and never forgotten.

Thermometer in front of open fridge refrigerator filled with food in kitchen



Cold-holding temperature guidelines

Cold holding requires precision in maintaining temperature and regular attention. These are key parts of restaurant food storage guidelines. The guidelines are used to ensure that the operation can protect the food from food spoilage and prevent foodborne illnesses from occurring.

Here are detailed steps to follow to ensure an effective cold-holding procedure:
  1. Maintain cold-holding temperatures at 41°F (5°C) or below at all times. Use our fridge temperature chart as a guide for maintaining proper temperatures.
  2. Use cold-holding equipment, such as refrigerators, freezers, coolers, and refrigerated displays, to cool foods and consistently maintain the minimum temperature.
  3. Install or ensure that all cold-holding equipment is equipped with a working and calibrated thermometer.
  4. Cool all foods within four hours of receiving or six hours after preparation before storing them in cold-holding units.
  5. Use only approved methods for cooling food.
  6. Monitor the cold-holding temperature every four or two hours and record the temperature readings.
  7. Practice proper TCS food date-marking.
  8. Store high-risk foods, such as raw meat, dairy products, fish, and poultry, in airtight containers before putting them inside the cooling unit.
  9. Discard food that was exposed to the temperature danger zone or within 0°F to 140°F (5°C to 60°C) for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the temperature is above 90°F (32°C).
  10. Avoid overstocking refrigerators or coolers, which can block airflow and cause temperature fluctuations.
  11. Clean and sanitize all cold-holding equipment regularly to prevent the growth of bacteria.
  12. When retrieving chilled foods, always use the First-in, first-out method.
  13. Train employees on proper cold holding techniques, including temperature monitoring and food handling procedures, and proper thermometer calibration.

By following these cold-holding temperature guidelines, the safety of customers and the prevention of the spread of foodborne illness can be ensured.

Cold-holding ready to eat food

How to measure the temperature of food and cold holding units?

Temperature measurement is a very important part of cold-holding foods. It will help food handlers ensure that foods are being held at the correct and safe temperature that will prevent bacterial growth. In measuring the temperature of cold holding operations, the accuracy and preciseness of the measurement are critical food safety practices.

Here are step-by-step instructions for measuring the temperature of foods in cold holding units:
  1. Food handlers must properly wash their hands before handling the food thermometer.
  2. If the cold holding units are covered, remove the covering and set aside on clean kitchen surfaces.
  3. Gently stir the food with a sanitized spoon for an accurate temperature reading.
  4. Insert the thermometer probe into the center of the food in the cold holding unit, ensuring it is submerged in the food.
  5. If the unit is deep, insert the thermometer probe at a 45-degree angle to get an accurate reading.
  6. Allow the current temp reading to stabilize for a few seconds.
  7. Record the temperature reading in a dedicated and comprehensive monitoring log or system.
  8. Clean and sanitize the thermometer probe in between use.

This set of tasks for monitoring temperature is very important and must be consistently followed. Failure to follow the steps can lead to inaccurate temperature readings, putting public health in danger.

In addition, the task must also be consistently performed in regular intervals to ensure proper cold holding. When food handlers follow this task, they can immediately apply corrective action procedures in case of unexpected non-compliance with food safety regulations.

Efficiently perform these tasks by using FoodDocs' smart Food Safety Management System. Our smart software uses artificial intelligence and a machine-learning program that can provide intuitive solutions for monitoring the temperature of your cold-holding units.

With FoodDocs' smart software, you can get customizable digital monitoring logs equipped with detailed instructions on how to perform the task. With this feature, you can orient your team and teach them how to measure temperature for precise readings accurately. In addition, our system allows you to upload your versions of the instructions in video or image formats.

Recommended cold TCS food temperatures

The recommended cold holding temperature for TCS food or time/temperature control for safety food group is 41°F (5°C). TCS foods are considered significantly high-risk and harmful for consumption without proper temperature control. As such, they are very prone to contamination by different foodborne pathogens and can become spreaders of diseases and food poisoning.

TCS foods, such as dairy products, leafy greens, fish, eggs, cooked rice, ground meat, and poultry, require close monitoring and strict, proper food handling. Maintaining the recommended cold-holding temperature for TCS food is crucial to ensure food safety. Exposing high-risk TCS food to the temp danger zone for more than 2 hours can significantly put public health at risk. If the temperature of food falls within this range, the chances of contracting foodborne illness increase.

At what temperature can cold TCS food be added to a self-service line?

The self-service line is a section of a food service establishment where customers can directly access refrigerated food. This is a common section for establishments like restaurants and retail food stores with salad bars, buffet setups, and cafeterias.

According to the US FDA Food Code, cold TCS food can only be added to the self-service line if prepared and previously stored at a temperature of 41°F (5°C) or below. After doing so, the TCS food must be consistently held at the same acceptable temperature range until consumed by the customer for safety.

Maximum cold-holding temperatures for specific foods

As previously mentioned, the required cold-holding temperature for foods varies based on the food product. Some types of food may require a specifically lower holding temperature to prevent the growth of a particular pathogen. For example, fish and seafood are required to be held particularly at 29°F to 32°F (-2°C to 0°C). This is because fish tends to oxidize and metabolize faster than other meats. At lower temperatures, these biological processes are slowed significantly.

What temperature should pasta salad be cold-held at?

To keep pasta salad safe, the dish must be held at a maximum cold-holding temperature of 41°F (5°C) or below. 

Pasta salad is a popular dish often served in restaurants as an appetizer. Cooked pasta is considered a high-risk food because of its high moisture and carbohydrate content.

In addition, the pasta salad must be properly contained in a covered container and kept away from direct sunlight.

How cold does a salad bar have to be?

A salad bar must be consistently maintained at a cool temperature of 41°F (5°C) or below to maintain safety and freshness. Vegetables and fresh fruits are considered high-risk, hazardous foods and are very prone to contamination and spoilage.

Displaying food on ice or at low temperatures and exposing them to customers to pick from increases the risk of food contamination. The food must be cold-held at a consistently low temperature to protect salad ingredients from food spoilage and spreading foodborne illness,

What temperature range should be used for storing tuna salad?

The maximum cold-holding temperature for tuna salad is 41°F (5°C). This temperature recommendation does not only apply to the tuna ingredient itself but also to the other ingredients in the salad.

Tuna salad comprises several high-risk foods, such as mayonnaise, vegetables, and potentially fruit. These ingredients can easily be contaminated and spoil fast, posing a significant threat to public health. To ensure the safety and freshness of tuna salad, it is recommended to store it in a refrigerator or on ice until ready to be served.

What is the recommended cold-holding temperature for a green salad?

The maximum recommended cold-holding temperature for green salad is 41°F (5°C). However, food handlers must note that a green salad consists of multiple types of vegetables, which have varying susceptibility to contamination.

Generally, it is best to keep green salads refrigerated or on ice to maintain freshness and prevent bacterial growth. In addition, keeping the dressing separate from the salad until serving can help retain the freshness of the greens.

What is the recommended cold-holding temperature for storing shredded lettuce?

Shredded lettuce should be cold-held at a maximum temperature of 41°F (5°C). This is because lettuce, like other leafy greens, can quickly spoil if kept at higher temperatures. Lettuce is a known high-risk product; therefore, it requires strict food handling.

When refrigerating shredded lettuce, make sure to keep it away from other raw ingredients to prevent cross-contamination.

Use our downloadable fridge layout poster to learn how to organize foods inside the fridge properly.

What is the temperature required for cold holding a container of salsa?

The maximum temperature allowed for cold-holding salsa is 41°F (5°C) and below.

Salsa is a great dip for many dishes. It is composed of different greens and vegetables, such as bell peppers, onions, and cilantro. Together, they make a dip that is very high in moisture and susceptible to contamination.

It is important to note that salsa should be prepared with no potential cross-contamination and food spoilage to prevent the spread of foodborne illness.

What is the required cold-holding temperature for deli meat?

Similar to meat dishes, deli meat should be held at a temperature of 41°F (5°C) and below. Above this temperature, the food item is exposed to the temperature danger zone and is at a higher risk of spoiling.

Deli meat should be immediately consumed within three to five days of refrigeration. This is the maximum time that the food item can remain fresh and safe for consumption, even when refrigerated.

Deli meats are raw food products. As such, they must be properly grouped with similar products to prevent contamination.

Download our free fridge organization chart to guide your food employees on how to store deli meats properly.

Variety of fine sausage products

What maximum cold-holding temperature should a cheese tray be held at?

 Displaying cheese requires it to be cold-held at 41°F (5°C). Cheese is a type of dairy product; therefore a high-risk food item. Food handlers must also remember that there are different types of cheese, and some can be more prone to spoilage.

For example, soft cheese like brie and camembert is more likely to spoil faster due to higher water content. As such, food handlers must increase the frequency of monitoring cold holding temperatures for this type of product.

What temperature should be used for cold-holding egg salad sandwiches?

The maximum cold-holding temperature for sliced egg salad sandwiches is 41°F (5°C). Egg salad is a very high-risk product. It contains eggs, mayonnaise, and some vegetables, making it very likely to be contaminated if unattended.

Ideally, egg sandwiches must be consumed within three to five days of refrigeration. When cold-holding prepared foods, the item must be placed in a food container to keep it away from other food products in the cooling unit or other cold food storage areas.

What is the recommended cold-holding temperature for slices of watermelon?

The recommended cold-holding temperature allowed for a slice of watermelon is 41°F (5°C) and below. Food service operators must use this safe temperature range for when displaying watermelon slices in salad bars.

Watermelons must be immediately refrigerated after slicing to minimize the likelihood of contamination.

What is the recommended cold-holding temperature for yogurt?

According to the FDA Food Code, the maximum cold-holding temperature for yogurt is around 41°F (5°C). This temperature is ideal to prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria and other pathogens.

Yogurt is a ready-to-eat food and must be placed on the topmost shelf of a refrigerator. This placement will help prevent the risk of cross-contamination from other raw ingredients.

Learn how to organize your fridge using our downloadable cold food storage rules.

How to implement Cold Storage Temperature Monitoring System

One of the most critical aspects of temperature control is consistent monitoring.

Monitoring temperature must be done at regular intervals continuously so that food handlers will be able to determine if there are any potential problems.

Without temperature monitoring, foodborne illness-causing pathogens can freely contaminate the food and become a source of a foodborne illness outbreak. If your food safety team can establish a consistent monitoring system for cold-holding temperatures, you can ensure food safety across your food supplies and dishes.

Use FoodDocs' intuitive solutions to help food handlers monitor holding temperature efficiently and effectively. Our digital software takes only 15 minutes to set up

Here are the essential features of our smart Food Safety Management System that can help you with monitoring cold temperature storage.

Temperature log with a prefilling solution for monitoring

Upon signing up, our smart software can automatically generate a customizable digital Temperature Log. This log can be used to monitor the cold holding temperature of your food products during storage. Log the information digitally to save time and efficiency. Help your team monitor and record temperatures easily.

All generated monitoring logs can be further customized to fit your unique operations. Allow the team to attach photos or videos as proof of monitoring. 

In addition to customizability, this Temperature Log is equipped with a prefilling solution. This smart feature automatically logs temperature readings based on previously logged data. Increase the accuracy of temperature recording with this solution. 

Temperature log

Temperature log from FoodDocs software

Real-time overview

Get a real-time dashboard that will give you a quick overview of the status of your entire operations across your food business branches. Ensure that all monitoring tasks, including the ones related to cold-holding foods, are accomplished correctly and on time using this dashboard.

Use this feature to verify the completion of food safety tasks and ensure everything is up to code. The dashboard also shows areas that need more attention. Managers can quickly identify areas that require corrective action and prevent further problems. 

Save up to 20% of your time and immediately identify areas that need more improvement.

Real-time dashboard from the FoodDocs software

Task notifications for tracking food safety tasks

Pair our customizable digital monitoring logs with our intuitive notification system from our smart app. Using this feature, food employees will get alerts whenever a task needs to be done. Set the frequency of monitoring the cold holding temperature and help your team never forget monitoring.

With our smart task notifications, you can ensure that cold holding temperature and other essential aspects of food safety are properly and timely monitored. Keep track of food safety tasks and ensure public health safety with this feature.

Task notifications from FoodDocs software

Powered by artificial intelligence and a machine-learning program, we can generate a comprehensive digital Food Safety Management System for you based on your food safety operations.

For cold holding to become an effective food safety operation, consistent monitoring must first be implemented. Using our smart digital monitoring solutions, you can ensure that monitoring tasks are seamless and that all the necessary information is captured as proof of food safety compliance.

Achieve and maintain food safety compliance – Start your digital food safety compliance journey using our intuitive Food Safety Management System. Get free access for 14 days using our free trial.


Similar posts