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Fall has Arrived! Use Your Crockpot or Slow Cooker Safely

October 9, 2009
Cindy Baumgartner ISU Extension Nutrition & Health Specialist

How wonderful to come home after being gone all day and--when opening your door--being greeted by the inviting smells of beef stew, chili, chicken noodle soup, or other delightful smells coming from a slow cooker, more commonly known as a crock pot!

A slow cooker can make life more convenient because, by planning ahead, you can save time later. And, it takes less electricity to use a slow cooker rather than an oven. With the chillier fall weather arriving, people are pulling out their slow cookers to use.

Is a Slow Cooker Safe? Yes. The slow cooker cooks foods slowly at a low temperature, generally between 170-280 degrees Fahrenheit. The low heat helps less expensive, leaner cuts of meat become tender and shrink less. The direct heat from the pot, lengthy cooking, and steam created within the tightly-covered container combine to destroy bacteria and make the slow cooker a safe process for cooking foods.

What are Some Other Things to Remember?

Before beginning to use a slow cooker, have a clean work area.

Wash hands before and during food preparation.

Never thaw meat in a slow cooker. Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker to ensure the food maintains safe temperatures to prevent pathogen growth.

Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time.

If you cut up meat and vegetables in advance, store them separately in the refrigerator. The slow cooker may take several hours to reach a safe, bacteria-killing temperature. Constant refrigeration assures that bacteria, which multiply rapidly at room temperature, won't get a head-start during the first few hours of cooking.

Cut food into chunks or smaller pieces to ensure thorough cooking.

Fill a cooker no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full. Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry in a slow cooker, so if using them, put vegetables in first, at the bottom, and around the sides of the cooker. Then add meat and cover the food with liquid such as broth, water or barbeque sauce. Keep the lid in place. Remove it only to stir the food or check if the food is done cooking.

If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe. However, it is safe to cook foods on low the entire time.

If you are not at home during the entire cooking process and the power would go out, throw away the food, even if it looks done.

Store leftovers in shallow covered containers and refrigerate them within two hours after cooking is finished. Reheating leftovers in the slow cooker is not recommended. However, cooked food can be brought to steaming on the stove or in a microwave and then put into a preheated slow cooker to keep hot for serving.

If you have any questions related to food safety, call the Grundy County Extension Office at 319-824-6979 or our toll-free ISU Answer Line at (800) 262-3804 and talk to a Home Economist on Monday-Friday between 9:00 AM-noon or 1:00-4:00 PM. For additional information, you may also contact Cindy Baumgartner, Iowa State University Extension Nutrition and Health Specialist at or at (563) 608-0868.

Source of article: USDA Food Inspection and Safety Service



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