Slow cookers and food safety

By Rebecca McFarland
Frontier Extension Agent

091513-slow-cookEven though the temperature doesn’t feel like it, fall will soon be upon us. And when I think of fall, I think about coming home to a slow cooker full of chili or vegetable beef stew. Slow cookers, as the name implies, cooks foods slowly at a low temperature – generally between 170 degrees F and 280 degrees F. 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.

Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. Choose to make foods with high moisture content such as chili, soup, or stew. Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry in a slow cooker so if using them, put the vegetables in first. Large cuts of meat and poultry may be cooked safely in a slow cooker, however since slow cookers are available in several sizes, consult the instruction booklet for suggested sizes of meat and poultry to cook in your slow cooker. Then add the meat and desired amount of liquid suggested in the recipe, such as broth, water or barbecue sauce. Keep the lid in place, removing it only to stir the food or check for doneness.

Most cookers have two or more settings. Foods take different times to cook depending upon the setting used. For all-day cooking or less-tender cuts, you may want to use the low setting. If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and them to low or the setting called for in your recipe. However, it’s safe to cook foods on low the entire time – if you’re leaving for work, for example, and preparation time is limited. While food is cooking and once it’s done, food will stay safe as long as the cooker is operating.

Store leftovers in shallow covered containers and refrigerate within two hours after cooking is finished. Reheating leftovers in a slow cooker is not recommended. Cooked food should be reheated on the stove, in a microwave, or in a conventional oven until it reaches 165 degrees F. Then the hot food can be placed in a preheated slow cooker to keep it hot for serving – at least 140 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer.


McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and consumer sciences agent. For more information, she can be contacted at the Extension district’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].

Contact us: Osage County News | P.O. Box 62, Lyndon, KS 66451 | [email protected] | 785-828-4994 | Powered by Osage County, Kansas