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Bear N Mom - Food Safety - Proper Cooking Temperatures

Updated on May 5, 2012

Food Handlers' Certification

I recently took a food handlers certification course run by the Allegheny County Health Department. There are several areas that go into proper food handling but one of the biggest areas to be aware of is the proper temperatures that food should be stores at, cooked to, held at and reduced to before storing leftovers.

What would happen if you didn't pay attention to any of these areas that go into the proper preparation and storage of foods? Bacteria could grow and you could make someone very sick if not worse.

Store to Refrigeration

Food temperature safety starts when you buy and take your groceries home. Frozen Foods should be kept at 30° or lower and meats should be kept below 70°. The danger zone for bacteria is between 70° and 140°. In the winter, there is very little danger of your frozen foods or meats being contaminated on the way home from the grocery but in the summer allow yourself 1 hour from the market to storage in the freezer or refrigerator. In today's shopping community, you can cheat and purchase frozen food bags at most supermarkets which gives you an additional 2 hours to get your foods home and stored safely.

Freezer to Cooking

Once meat has been frozen the proper defrosting methods should be used to prepare the meat for cooking.  The best way to defrost your meat is to place it into the refrigerator and let it thaw slowly.

If you have left the meat in the freezer too long or it hasn't defrosted quickly enough you have two other safe ways to completely defrost your selection.  First, you can place the meat into cold (not warm or hot) water until it is defrosted the rest of the way or you can put it in a large colander and continue bathing the meat.  Second, you can defrost it in the microwave but this method is only safe when you will be immediately cooking the defrosted selection.

Cooking and Holding Temperatures

When your are cooking it is important to have thermometer to determine if the meat is cooked to the right temperatures.  You insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat or in the case of poulty the portion under the wings for 15 seconds to determine the internal temperature.

  • Roast Beef - 145° for rare and 155° for medium well
  • fish - 145°
  • pork, hamburger and egg dishes - 160°
  • chicken breast and poultry - 165°

Thermometers should be thoroughly cleaned between uses with soap and water and thoroughly dried.  The thermometer should never be held under hot running water.  The use of paper towels for drying is recommended.  We need to be concious of cross contamination from using dish rags, kitchen towels, etc.

The proper holding temperature for hot foods before bringing to the table is 145°.

Leftovers to Refrigeration or Freezer

You are not done with your themometer once you have served your meal. Your leftovers need to be properly stored and you have 2 hours to cool down your foods ready for the refrigerator. Your food needs to cool down to 70° prior to being store in the refrigerator.

If you have large quantities of food such as soups or stews, you can put them into shallow pans so that the cooling time is reduced. If the food is not cooling fast enough you may place them in the refrigerator. All containers that are placed into the refrigerator or freezer after prior cooking should be labeled with the date that they have been placed in storage.

Cross Contamination

A big part of keeping food safe is keeping the item safe from cross contamination. What is that you ask. That is when you use the same knife or cutting board to cut your meat or fish and then use it later to cut up your vegetables.

You either need to clean and sanitize your tools or you can keep different sets of tools for different food varieties. I know one chef who has colored cutting boards for each type of food being prepared.


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