Cooking isn’t just how most food gets its taste. Cooking is also what makes many foods safe to consume (especially raw meats and poultry) and longer-lasting, but it can also be dangerous if food isn’t heated up to just the right temperature. This is especially crucial for restaurants, which have a responsibility to serve safe food but also must cook things in a hurry. Here’s how to avoid the danger zone of cooking times.
What is the danger zone?
The USDA, or the United States Department of Agriculture, has named the temperature range that puts food at the greatest risk of contamination as “the danger zone.” This range is between forty and one hundred forty degrees, just above where refrigerators start to keep food well-preserved and below where most ovens start the cooking process and can start to kill off bacteria. This lukewarm temperature range is perfect for encouraging the growth of bacteria, especially if the food is moist or the heat is humid. This danger zone not only applies to food storage, such as ingredients left out of refrigeration for easy toppings and serving, but also for the central point in proteins: even if your griddle’s temperature is well away from the danger zone, that doesn’t mean the high heat fully reached the middle of the food.
What can you do to keep perishable or wet ingredients safe?
- Never leave them out of storage for longer than two hours. Because room temperature falls squarely in the middle of the danger zone, most ingredients can’t be left out throughout the course of the day for convenience. That duration is even shorter for food above ninety degrees Fahrenheit, so store ingredients you need easy access to in small containers: it’s better to empty and replace than leave out too long.
- Have a reliable cooktop: A large risk to restaurants are proteins that didn’t fully cook through the middle. It’s hard to judge by outer appearance alone, especially if your griddle’s temperature fluctuates unreliably. So, invest in the right equipment so you can accurately assess food safety in a hurry.