Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Cooking and Produce
Janet Hackert, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension
There’s nothing quite like coming home to the smells of a home-cooked meal. But if you’re the one responsible for the cooking, that could be a problem – unless you use a slow cooker or crockpot to make that meal.
Crockpots use a low temperature to cook foods slowly. They generally operate at 170 to 280 degrees Fahrenheit. This might seem too low to be safe, but in fact, the crockpot's direct heat on the food, long cooking time and the steam produced inside a tightly-covered container, makes the process safe. The combination kills harmful bacteria that can cause illness. It also helps less expensive, leaner cuts of meat become tender and shrink less, according to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
To stay safe, start safe. Be sure the crockpot, other utensils and the cooking area are clean. Wash hands well and often while preparing food. And keep perishable foods, such as meat, refrigerated until ready for use. Here are other tips suggested from FSIS to keep slow-cooked food safe:
- Defrost meat and poultry in the refrigerator before slow cooking.
- Choose recipes that are high in moisture content. The liquid in soups, stews, and similar foods makes better contact with the walls of the crockpot and so distributes the heat better.
- Cut food into chunks or smaller pieces, again to help distribute that slow heat better and heat food more thoroughly. Cooking large cuts of meat, such as a whole roast or chicken could result in parts of the meat remaining in the Food Safety Danger Zone (between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit) for longer than the safe 2-hour limit.
- Fill slow cooker no less than half full and no more than 2/3 full to take advantage of the slow cooker's heating surface.
- Fresh vegetables cook slower than meat so they should be added first, with the meat on top. Then add liquid ingredients.
- Keep the lid on at all times while cooking. Taking the lid off prevents the cooker from maintaining the proper temperature, so only remove the lid when absolutely necessary.
- When possible, cook on high for the first hour, then reduce heat to low or the recipe’s suggested setting. If prep time is limited (like if you are rushing off to work), it is safe to cook foods on low for the entire time.
- When it comes to reheating foods, a slow cooker is NOT recommended. However, you can heat foods to steaming on the stovetop or in a microwave oven and then put into a preheated slow cooker to keep hot for serving.
Slow cook food safely in a crockpot and enjoy a delicious hot meal at the end of a hectic day.
For more information, contact Janet Hackert at 660-425-6434 or go to http://www.fsis.usda.gov/.
Last update: Friday, January 15, 2010