Food safety

Two-Stage Cooling Method

The two-stage cooling method is critical and recommended food safety practice in the entire food industry.

Get your HACCP in
1 hour!

Sign up now

Food Safety System in 15 min

Sign up now
The two-stage cooling method is critical and recommended food safety practice in the entire food industry.

Cooling to the correct internal temperature is one of the most important food safety operations to protect consumer health. After cooking, foods may be cooled in preparation for longer storage. Cooling cooked food in restaurants and food production establishments as fast as possible can save your food from the excessive growth of microorganisms and your customers from any foodborne illness outbreaks.

The two-stage cooling method is the most effective cooling method to make food safe in the food supply chain. Food employees must be well-guided regarding this technique and how to ensure it is followed properly.

Key points covered:

  1. Foods must be cooled to 70°F (21°C) within the first two hours after cooking and to 41°F (5°C) or less within the next 4 hours. 
  2. Proper food cooling processes protect consumers from the unwanted and rapid growth of foodborne pathogens to dangerous levels.
  3. The two-stage cooling method is a widely acceptable method for food temperature cooling in the food industry.
  4. The proper two-stage cooling method can be achieved with the help of commercial blast chillers, ice baths, and ice paddles.
  5.  The main objective of the two-stage cooling method is to prevent the food from being exposed to the temperature danger zone, which is the optimal temperature range for bacterial growth.
  6. Improper cooling practices can lead to potential contamination and spoilage of foods.
  7. FoodDocs' innovative Food Safety Management System can automatically create an intuitive Cooling Log that food handlers can use to record the process. 

In this article, we teach you how to perform the two-stage cooling method and show you the quickest way to remind your team how and when to do it.

What is the two-stage cooling method?

As the name suggests, the two-stage cooling method is the process of reducing the internal temperature of food using two major steps.

The process is used to maintain safety while cooling freshly cooked foods and is considered a critical control operation. 

The two-stage cooling method consists of two major steps:

1. Initial cooling. Using this method, freshly cooked foods with an internal temperature of 135°F (57°F) have to cool down to 70°F (21°C) within 2 hours as the first step. The first step is considered the critical time period.

The first stage of the cooling process can be easily achieved by separating the food into containers in smaller portions and placing them in shallow containers. Alternatively, a piece of cooling equipment can be used, or placing the container of food with ice water would be effective.

2. Secondary cooling. After cooling down, the second step requires the temperature of the food to go down to a minimum temperature of 41°F (5°C) or less within the next 4 hours.

The second stage can be done inside the refrigerator for faster food cooling.

The whole two-stage cooling process is performed for a total of 6 hours. Some extra steps are taken to help the process quickly achieve the target proper temperatures. 

Here are some general instructions to consider when performing the two-stage cooling method:

  • Freshly cooked foods are not advised to be refrigerated as their high-temperature range can significantly decrease the temperature of the food in the refrigerator.
  • The heat from foods may significantly decrease the safe temperatures of the cooling unit and will not be able to keep the food cold quickly.
  • A critical food preparation task in the proper cooling process is monitoring the temperature as it drops. A probe thermometer can be used to perform this task.

To make the monitoring process more efficient, use FoodDocs' intuitive Food Safety Management System to keep track of and monitor the entire cooling process. 

Our software can generate a Cooling log, which has fields for monitoring the starting time of the process, initial temperature, secondary cooling temperature, and final temperature. With the help of our intelligent solutions, you can ensure food safety more accurately

HACCP plan FoodDocs

Why should you cool hot food quickly?

Proper and fast cooling ensures that any cooked food will not stay in the temperature danger zone for too long.

The temperature danger zone is the optimal growing condition for most harmful microorganisms.

Here are reasons why food businesses should cool foods using the two-stage cooling method:

1. Prevention of bacterial growth. If foods being cooled stay more than two hours at 40°F to 140°F (5°C to 60°C), then the risk of growth of bacteria and food poisoning increases. The foods are at risk of accelerated bacteria growth within the danger zone.

2. Food preservation. As much as possible, foods are recommended to be cooled fast if they are intended to be stored for later or will not be served to customers hot. This food safety guideline applies to potentially hazardous foods in cold-holding equipment.

3. Compliance with regulations. Quick cooling aligns with best practices in food safety. Professional kitchens from restaurants and food service establishments prioritize rapid cooling to maintain high food hygiene standards.

4. Prevention of food waste. Properly cooled foods are more likely to stay fresh and have a longer shelf-life during proper food storage. Since spoilage pathogens are controlled before refrigeration, there is less possibility of untimely spoilage of foods, which could lead to food waste.

5. Prevention of compromising other foods in the cooling unit. When cooked foods are properly cooled before storing, the refrigeration unit can accommodate the slight temperature change and will not affect the keeping conditions for the other products inside it.

Proper food cooling is best achieved using the two-stage cooling method. In addition, precise execution of the task must be emphasized to food workers to ensure food safety.

Allow FoodDocs' innovative Food Safety Management System to help you ensure precise cooling processes. Our automatically generated Cooling Log and other monitoring checks are equipped with educative instructions that food handlers can use as a reference on how to conduct the task.

What are examples of the two-stage cooling method?

The two-stage cooling method is simple yet valuable in any food business. The method can be used for retail, food service, and productionYet, in different setups, achieving the target safe temperatures may vary depending on the convenience or available materials. 

Some materials and methods that can be used to achieve the two-stage cooling method include:
  • blast chiller
  • ice-water bath
  • ice paddles

Food safety agencies endorse the mentioned cooling methods widely used in the industry. Each method can be used to ensure that each stage of the cooling process is successfully achieved.

Below, we describe how to use the two-stage cooling method for the following scenarios:
  1. Cooling rice safely
  2. Cooling a large batch of casserole
  3. Cooling a large roast

How should the food worker cool the rice safely?

Rice is considered a high-risk or time/temperature control for safety food (TCS), meaning it is highly perishable. As such, cooling freshly cooked rice is essential to ensure its safety before refrigeration.

Apply the two-stage cooling method in cooling rice and follow these steps:

  1. Separate the rice into shallow containers. This step will help you achieve the initial cooling step faster.
  2. Allow the portioned rice to cool from 135°F (57°C) to 70°F (21°C) within two hours.
  3. After the initial cooling process, you can store the cooled rice in the refrigerator for the temperature to drop from 70°F (21°C) to 41°F (5°C) or below within an additional four hours.
  4. Make sure that the food is covered with a lid before refrigeration to prevent contamination

Man are scooping food from chafing dishes on the table at the luxury banquet

A food worker has prepared a large pot of rice that must be cooled

A critical step in cooling rice is monitoring the temperature as it decreases. This step will help ensure the target temperature is reached within the prescribed time. 

In case the initial cooling temperature is not reached within the first two hours, additional steps can be taken to speed up the process. The cooked rice can be placed inside a chiller for faster cooling.

How should a food worker cool a large batch of casserole?

To maintain food safety, a food worker needs to cool a large batch of tuna casserole within the first six hours. A casserole is a combination of solid and liquid components. As such, other cooling methods could be more efficient to use.

Using the two-stage cooling method for cooling casserole involves the following steps:

  1. Divide the casserole into smaller portions. Use a shallow dish for faster cooling. 
  2. Cool the freshly cooked casserole from 135°F (57°C) to 70°F (21°C) within two hours before refrigerating. You can use the ice-water or ice-paddle technique to cool the food product quickly.
  3. Place the divided casserole portions in the refrigerator. Make sure they are not stacked tightly to allow for proper air circulation. The temperature of the product must be reduced from 70°F (21°C) to 41°F (5°C) or below within an additional four hours.

When cooling large amounts of food, always remember that stirring the product with a sanitized spatula is important.

Stirring redistributes the heat and ensures the product is equally cooled from all portions. 

How should a food worker cool a large roast?

A large roast must be cooled to the center to ensure food safety. The problem with cooling a thick food product is that food handlers may think that the entire food is already cooled when, in fact, its core is still hot.

To ensure proper cooling of a large roast or similar large dishes, follow these steps:

  1. If possible, carve the roast into smaller portions. This increases the surface area and allows for faster and more even cooling.
  2. Pre-cool the freshly cooked roast from 135°F (57°C) to 70°F (21°C) for the next two hours. If the roast has been carved, the time it will take to reach the target safe temperature will be around 30 minutes. 
  3. Measure the temperature of the thickest cut of roast. If the temperature is around 70°F (21°C), you can refrigerate the product to quickly reduce the temperature to 41°F (5°C) or below.

Use a calibrated food thermometer to monitor the temperature of the roast portions during the cooling process. If you cannot carve the roast into smaller pieces, you can use machines, such as a blast chiller, to speed up the cooling process while maintaining food safety. 

By following these steps, you can cool a large roast safely and efficiently, reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses and ensuring the roast retains its quality.


Why do you need to monitor food cooling?

Food cooling is a time and temperature-sensitive operation. Its effectiveness is dependent on how accurately will the whole process be performed.

To ensure this, food service operators must be trained to monitor food cooling and how to use an accurate food thermometer.

Monitoring cooling processes provides a record of compliance with food safety protocols. This documentation can be important for regulatory inspections, audits, and quality control.

Time and temperature control for safety (TCS) food category must be cooled as fast as possible. The only way food service operators can know if the process is still on track is to monitor it constantly.

Regular monitoring also allows food workers to apply corrective actions in case deviations occur immediately. Use FoodDocs' smart Food Safety Management System to monitor cooling food operations. With our smart software, you can quickly see whether a batch of produced foods is properly cooled.

Our smart software features a real-time dashboard that shows you the status of daily tasks in the food business. Quickly identify areas that require more attention with our intuitive solutions. 

What could go wrong with the two-stage cooling method?

Implementing a two-stage cooling method for foods, introduces unique challenges and risks to the food industry. This method requires precision and constant monitoring to ensure food safety until completion.

Here are some potential issues that may occur:

  1. Poor control of the surrounding temperature can cause uneven cooling.
  2. Uneven cooling due to the size of the food product or lack of stirring for liquid foods. 
  3. The food being cooled can get contaminated while cooling when placed in a high-traffic area.
  4. Unsanitized machines, such as blast food chillers, can cause food contamination. 
  5. Equipment used for cooling can encounter problems mid-operation
  6. Inefficient cooling can cause the food to spend too much time in the temperature danger zone
  7. Improperly ventilated foods, such as those immediately covered, can cause moisture condensation, making the cooling process inefficient and promoting contamination.

To reduce the risk of contamination and other issues during the two-stage cooling method, it is critical to implement proper food safety protocols. Food workers must be trained to monitor the entire process and be aware of food safety regulations related to cooling. 

When cooling food, what is the maximum time?

When cooling food, the maximum total time allowed for the process is six hours. This time frame is based on food safety guidelines and regulations to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that can lead to foodborne illnesses.

The objective of cooling methods, such as the two-stage cooling method, is to reduce the temperature of food with the least time of exposure to the danger zone

It's important to note that this 6-hour maximum cooling time applies to the cumulative time the food spends in the temperature danger zone. This means that both the initial cooling phase and the final cooling phase combined should not exceed 6 hours.

How can you help your team in cooling food properly?

The two-stage cooling process is a very technical operation in commercial food service. It is a critical food safety practice that requires time and temperature control to become very effective.

Food handlers must be well-oriented on how to perform it and the consequences of non-compliance from health departments.

To help your team understand the process, use our free cooling method poster tool as a guide for training your employees

Cooling food methods

Take your food safety compliance with the two-stage cooling method further by using our intelligent solutions. With the help of FoodDocs' smart Food Safety Management System, you can get intuitive and efficient solutions and tools to help you manage cooling methods and other food safety practices. 

With our digital solution, you can get the following benefits:
  1. Cooling log for accurately monitoring the two-stage cooling method
  2. Step-by-step instructions for guiding food handlers in executing the cooling method
  3. Real-time dashboard for an overview of food safety status

Cooling log for accurately monitoring the two-stage cooling method

Using our smart software, food businesses can get an automatically generated Cooling Log that every food safety team can use to monitor the two-stage cooling process. This feature is designed to log the critical information about the task and ensure the process is correctly done. 

The generated log is composed of the following components:

  1. Product being cooled
  2. Starting time of cooling
  3. Starting temperature
  4. Temperature in 2 hours
  5. Final temperature


Cooling Log from FoodDocs software

Our Cooling Log is equipped with intuitive features. Use it to log information about the product being cooled. When non-compliance results are logged, our system automatically suggests corrective actions to help food handlers address the issue. 

With the help of this monitoring check, food handlers can safely ensure the safety of foods being cooled for cold storage for later use. 



Step-by-step instructions for guiding food handlers in executing the cooling method

Using FoodDocs' smart Food Safety Management System, you can also ensure that food handlers know how to perform the two-stage cooling method. Our generated Cooling Log is equipped with detailed and educative instructions on how to perform and monitor the cooling method.

Food safety managers can use these instructions to train food handlers regarding the cooling method. In addition, the instructions can serve as a reference for employees when they need to verify the target temperatures. 

Food safety managers can upload their versions of the instructions, as our monitoring checks are customizable. Upload videos or image versions of the instructions and personalize the Cooling Log. 


Real-time dashboard for an overview of food safety status

Save at least 20% of your time on supervising your team with our real-time dashboard. With this feature, you can oversee your operations and identify areas that need improvement. This dashboard can show food safety concerns, such as whenever batches of food prepared are improperly cooled. 


Real-time dashboard from FoodDocs software

With the help of our real-time dashboard, you can address concerns and apply corrective actions to minimize further issues. Ensure that no improper cooling practices are done in your food business with the help of a comprehensive overview from our smart software.


Going digital has never been this easy. In just about 15 minutes, you can already get a comprehensive AI-powered food safety management system. This digital solution contributes greatly to becoming more sustainable as you leave behind your paper-based monitoring system.

Fulfill your compliance to sensitive operations such as the two-step cooling process most efficiently through our help. If you want to try our services before committing, you can do so by availing of our free 14-day trial

With our digital solution onboard your food business, compliance with tough food safety regulations can be much easier. All it takes is for you to spend 15 minutes and start your food safety compliance journey with us!


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are a few frequently asked questions to help you understand food cooling better:

How long does the two-step cooling method take?

The whole two-step cooling process takes a total of 6 hours to perform. Within the first two hours, the cooked food must be cooled from 135°F (57°F) to 70°F (21°C), whereas the remaining 4 hours are dedicated to lowering the temperature to 41°F (5°C) or less.

What is the maximum time allowed for Stage 2 Cooling?

As a recommended food safety standard by the Food and Drug Administration, the entire cooling process must be completed within 6 hours. An extended period beyond the time limit may increase the risk of spoilage.

What is the best cooling method?

The best way to perform the 2-stage cooling method is to divide the ready-to-eat food items into smaller portions and place the separate food container in an ice and cold water bath or a bigger storage container with ice packs.

In the two-stage cooling method, what is the maximum for stage one?

The first stage of the two-stage cooling methodology must be achieved within 2 hours maximum.



Similar posts