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Proper food preservation by cooling is essential to maintaining food safety at home or in the food business. If you do food cooling correctly, you could significantly prolong the food products’ expected shelf life. Cooling foods after processing requires constant monitoring to prevent food poisoning scenarios due to spoilage.
According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was estimated that improperly cooled food items in restaurants cause 504 foodborne illnesses each year. Therefore, food handlers tasked with cooling foods should do their best to avoid the risks associated with poor food cooling practices. This article will help you learn the best alternative to safely cooling food.
What Is The Right Temperature For Safely Cooling Food?
If you want to be sure that your food items remain safe for consumption after it is cooked, the food should be able to reach 21°C within 2 hours and then be refrigerated or cooled to about 5°C within 4 hours. Food handlers in the modern world should be aware of these two critical points to help maintain food safety. More and more companies have started relying on this process of cooling food in two stages to maintain food safety. The primary objective of these food cooling processes is to reduce the time the food can stay in the Temperature Danger Zone (TDZ), which is estimated to be between 5 and 60°C.
Foods are more likely to spoil quickly within these temperatures as microorganisms are encouraged to grow. Therefore, if you quickly cool down foods with fast cooling methods, microorganisms will not have enough time to thrive and reproduce to dangerous levels. In other words, at lower temperatures, the growth of bacteria and other organisms is inhibited, which may make it difficult for them to make undesirable changes to your foods. An effective food cooling process ensures the safety and taste of the food are not altered.
Best Alternatives to Safely Cooling Foods
When it comes to cooling food, it should be possible to do the job as quickly as possible or in the time specified without compromising the quality of the food. Generally, the method usually preferable to being used for cooling food must not cause food to become contaminated during the process.
While it is necessary to cool foods safely and adequately, there are several reasons why cooling them at room temperature by placing them on a hot, metal countertop is not an appropriate cooling method. Therefore, the most efficient cooling methods include fast, clean, and efficient operations, such as:
1. Using Blast Chillers
Tumblers or blast chillers are equipment used in commercial settings to reduce food temperature quickly. The chillers rapidly cool foods by forcing cold air against the food products.
2. Ice Water Bath
Ice-water bath is efficient for food items that are hard to break or solid dishes with ingredients that can’t be watered down. Food that needs to be chilled is put in a ziplock bag or a deep bowl and is placed on top of a cold water and ice mixture to help cool it down. When you mix ice cubes with cold water, it will help to cool the food by conduction.
3. Ice Paddles or Ice Cubes
Ice cube paddles are very effective for cooling foods quickly. Ice paddles are small utensils filled with ice cubes and water that are stirred around a particular food item in a skillet or other hot dish to cool it evenly. Alternatively, food items such as gravies and soups can be cooled by adding ice cubes to the foods as the water will evaporate when reheating the foods.
These food handling techniques are safe as long as food handlers follow the appropriate food safety precautions. These are safe food cooling alternatives that the FDA has approved. Anyone handling food should be sure to isolate food from other potentially contaminable objects completely and use only purified and clean water to cool the food.
In general, all methods for cooling food products safely require food handlers to be continuously vigilant and monitor the process closely to ensure food safety. All food products must be entirely cooled within a time limit of 6 hours. After that time, the cooled food must be stored in the refrigerator or freezer in a manner that ensures food safety.
If you want to remain on top of temperature control in both cooling units and food storage, try food safety management software such as FoodDocs. You will constantly get automatic food safety monitoring logs through a highly advanced notification system to ensure that the food safety monitoring process is done effectively.
Unacceptable Food Cooling Processes
At one time, you may have thought about putting your food on the countertop to allow it to cool down before you return to eat it later. This method is highly liable for food contamination and spoilage. This is mainly because the cooling process exposes your food to longer to the TDZ. In other words, foods that are allowed to cool at ambient temperature for a long time are still in danger of contamination. When food is exposed to TDZ, pathogens get sufficient time to recover and proliferate, making the food go bad.
When it comes to storing hot food, do not place it in a refrigerator or freezer. This is a dangerous practice that may cause foodborne pathogens to spread. The cooling method is not only improper for the food that is being cooled down but also for all the other food products that are stored in the refrigerator.
When food is placed in a refrigerator to cool it, cooling is much faster than letting it sit at room temperature. However, it’s important to note that the heat the food is expelling will reduce the temperatures in the unit. Therefore, if the temperature in the refrigerator is reduced, the bacteria in the other foods will find the environment suitable enough to thrive. In other words, frozen foods can become spoiled as they thaw and are also susceptible to contamination.
Factors That Affect The Process Of Food Cooling
Below are the factors that you must monitor closely as they impact the process of food cooling:
This is a cooling feature that should be closely monitored. The food’s temperature will tell you when it is ready to be refrigerated or not. Incorrect readings can cause food handlers to erroneously decide that it’s ready for refrigeration when it’s not!
As we mentioned earlier, the entire cooling process must be finished within a maximum of 6 hours. After 6 hours, the risk of food spoilage increases dramatically. Some food items need to be chilled more efficiently than others. For example, if you have a lot of thick soup that you need to cool very quickly, using an ice paddle or ice cubes is easier.
The cooling process is greatly influenced by how thick or dense the food is and how the food is arranged. If the food is thick and heavy, it will take longer for the heat to expel. As a result, food should be divided into parts and quickly put into small bowls to speed up the cooling process.
Different materials that are used in food containers conduct heat in different ways. For instance, a large bowl with a lid can cool food much faster than a container with clear acrylics if you’ve chosen to use the ice bath method.
Food Handler Training
This is a significant point that should be stressed. A good food handler should be able to cook foods properly and cool them in the right manner, regardless of the type of foods they’re handling. Personnel who do not have adequate food handling training could cause food contamination.
What Is The Maximum Time For Cooling Foods?
The process of cooling food that is in a state of preservation should take at most 6 hours. This time limit applies to all high-risk food and/or any other food item that needs to be cooled quickly to ensure that it remains safe. The time needed to cool food safely is divided into two parts, as suggested by the two-step cooling process.
Why Is Cooling Hot Quickly Important?
During the cooling of hot foods, opportunist pathogens have a window of opportunity to spoil the food. This can happen especially if hot food is kept in areas where the temperature is at a TDZ, which is between 5°C and 60°C. Cool foods from 57° to 21°C in the first two hours and then to 5°C or less in the next four hours so that they remain safe.
While everyone knows that healthy eating is valuable, they need to realize how valuable it is to store their food items safely and properly. Cooling foods improperly can cause food to become toxic and potentially cause food poisoning. The CDC data we mentioned earlier, alluding to the situation between 1998 and 2008, shows that food safety staff must learn how to cool food safely. There are several ways to keep your cool food products in any kitchen, even if you don’t use a refrigerator.