What’s the one question that potentially can cause dread in the heart of any busy Mom?
“What’s for dinner?”
Speaking from experience, this question is generally asked en route to or from after-school activities and prior to any home work being completed. In order to ensure my family receives a fresh, nutritious meal, I enlist the help of my slow cooker.
A slow cooker is certainly convenient, but if used incorrectly there is the potential for food-safety hazards. Temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees fall into the so-called “Danger Zone,” since bacteria thrive in these temperatures. When using a slow cooker, be sure to take precautions to keep food from being in the “Danger Zone” for too long.
Here are a few reminders to ensure any dish prepared in a slow cooker is delicious and, more importantly, is safe to eat.
Begin with a clean space and equipment -- and don’t forget to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Next, keep perishable foods refrigerated as long as possible. Bacteria multiply rapidly when at room temperature.
To keep bacteria from getting a head start, keep your food refrigerated until it’s time to add it to the slow cooker. Prep meat and vegetables separately. If you prep your meat and vegetables beforehand, store them separately in your fridge in order to avoid cross-contamination.
Always defrost meat or poultry prior to putting it in the slow cooker. Defrosting will ensure your food cooks all the way through to the safe internal temperature. There has been heated debate regarding defrosting. However, current food safety practices recommend always defrosting.
Make sure your foods fit. The slow cooker should be half to two-thirds full to ensure your food cooks thoroughly. Cooking too little or too much food in a slow cooker can affect cooking time, quality and safety.
Keep the lid on. It is important to retain heat when making a slow cooker meal, so avoid taking the lid off. Each time the lid is raised, the internal temperature drops 10 degrees to 15 degrees and the cooking process is slowed by 30 minutes.
One of the best parts of your slow cooker meal is the leftovers. But you must make sure you are storing them safely and eating them in a timely manner -- you don’t want leftovers with a side of food poisoning. Store leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate within two hours of removing from the slow cooker.
For more information about food safety, fee free to contact me!
Contact county Extension agent Keishon J. Thomas by calling 478-751-6338 or emailling firstname.lastname@example.org.