Cooling Food Right Was Published for DayMark Safety Systems, showcasing Edward Sharek as a Thought Leader
We’ve known for quite some time that the longer cooked rice is left out at room temperature, the more likely it is that bacteria will make the rice unsafe to eat. This is because uncooked rice contains spores of bacteria that can survive even after the rice has cooked.
Because of this, kitchen staff in long-term or senior care facilities should make sure rice is served as quickly as possible after cooking, and any leftover rice should be discarded. Reheating the rice will not necessarily kill the bacteria so it should not be served later or used as a left over.
But rice is not the only food item that can pose a health-risk, potentially resulting in severe food poisoning, if it is left out too long. This can also happen if meat, fish, chicken, even vegetables are left out too long; and very often some of the most serious problems arise when just cooked food is left out to cool.
Long-term/senior care administrators must take this situation – the cooling of food after cooking – very seriously. This is because, “elderly people, people with weak immune systems, diabetes or kidney problems are all at increased risk of complications from food poisoning,” according to Dr. Carolyn O’Connor, formerly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Invariably, food does have to cool before serving. Further, if large amounts of food are cooked at one time, with the intention of putting the food in the refrigerator or freezer, it too has to be cooled first before cold storage. Placing food too quickly in the fridge can cause food to spoil; lower temperatures in the refrigerator or freezer, which can cause bacteria to develop in other food items being stored; as well as cause condensation and water pooling to form in the refrigerator. *
This is Why We Cooling Food Right is So Important
So, is there a guide kitchen staffers can use to help ensure we do not chill food too quickly or leave it out too long after cooking, potentially causing food poisoning? What is viewed as a “rule of thumb” is to leave food out to cool no longer than two hours after cooking. If it is a very hot day or in a very hot kitchen, we should only leave the food out for one hour.
However, because food poisoning can be so dangerous, especially for older people or those with health issues, as mentioned by Dr. O’Connor, do we really want to trust their health to a “rule of thumb” and just watch the clock? After all, no rule of thumb is intended to be viewed as strictly accurate or reliable.
Fortunately, there are steps we can take to help ensure that we cool food right and that it is safe to eat or store in refrigerators. Among them are the following:
- Because long-term/senior care facilities may need to cook large amounts of food at one time to be served through the course of the week, an option to consider is selecting what is called a blast chiller. These systems blow chilled air over food very quickly, cooling the food and reducing the possibility of bacteria from developing.
- A far less expensive option is to just cook food in smaller portions. Food cools quicker in smaller amounts.
- Place pots and pans containing just cooked food in cold water. This will speed the cooling process.
- If preparing a soup or liquid food item, take it off the burner and continue stirring. This will help cool the food as well as cool it more evenly.
- If available, move just cooked food to a cool location. Some commercial kitchens have a “cold larder” area where food can be left to cool.
- Select ovens that have a “cool” setting.
Taking Cooling Food Right to a More Precise Level
While all of these steps can help ensure food is safe to serve or store in a fridge, they still involve a bit of guesswork. Because we must be particularly careful with the food served to elderly people, it is advised that long-term/senior care administrators take more precise precautions. And one of the many benefits of these added precautions is that in most cases, this step must only be taken once.
One way is to use probe thermometers. Take the temperature of just cooked food and then test it again at regular intervals. Keep watching the clock. These intervals should be about every 20 minutes. Also, it is important to keep pen and paper handy to record time and temperature.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bacteria are most likely to develop when food cools to 140 degrees (F). Also, no two types of food will necessarily cool in the same time, so this test must be completed on all types of food served in our facilities.
Taking this a step further is to use new Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) compliant systems. In fact, because food poisoning can be more dangerous for seniors, such a system is highly recommended.
While they may work differently, the way at least one system works is it uses electronic temperature monitoring sensors that monitor the temperature of both hot and cold food. Temperature data is collected in real time and stored, so there is no need for pen and paper. Information is also reported to kitchen staffers in a variety of ways, including, for instance, their smartphones, eliminating the need to watch the clock and notifying them when the desired cooling temperature has been reached.
Unfortunately, the cooling down of just cooked food is not always given the important attention it should. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, “cooling practices are a major cause of foodborne illnesses in the United States.” They report that many of the cases of food poisoning in this country are not caused by food that has just come from the stove, but as a result of food that has been left out too long in the cooling process.
Taking the steps discussed here as well as turning to newer technologies can help reduce these cases. We can begin cooling food right. This will help us protect the health of those left in our care.
Edward Sharek is with DayMark Safety Systems, manufacturers of a wide variety of products designed to enhance food safety.
*The big concern about water pooling is that it allows bacteria, even mold to develop in the refrigerator.