No matter the season, slow cookers are a handy kitchen device, whether you’re craving a savory pulled pork or baked beans or something sweet like apple crisp. But before you plug in, let’s review five tips that will ensure you're using your slow cooker safely.
1. Safe Set Up
While you might be in a rush to start the slow cooker and head out the door, it’s important to take time to properly prep. Before you start, wash your hands with warm soapy water, scrub all fresh fruits and vegetables and thoroughly clean kitchen surfaces and utensils.
2. Take Time to Thaw
It takes a little pre-planning, but be sure to thaw all your ingredients — veggies and meats — in the fridge (not out on the countertop!) before putting them in the slow cooker. If not thawed, frozen food may not get cooked to a safe internal temperature that kills harmful bacteria.
3. What Happens if There's a Power Outage?
An unexpected storm can cancel your daytime plans, and it can just as easily ruin your dinner! If you lose power during a storm, check the temperature of the contents of your slow cooker. If it's lower than 165 degrees for 2 hours — or if you weren't at home and cannot determine what happened during the outage —discard the food. Foodborne illness could have been brewing along with the storm.
4. Slow Cookers Are Slow Reheaters
Slow cookers are for cooking food, not reheating it. It simply takes too long for the food to reach a safe internal temperature again that would kill off harmful bacteria. If you are hosting guests for dinner, your best bet is to serve food from the slow cooker within two hours of cooking. If reheating is necessary, use your microwave or stove.
5. Chill Out
Don't let food cool down too much in an unplugged slow cooker. After serving, chill food properly by putting it in large, shallow containers and storing in the refrigerator within two hours. Do not place a warm crock insert in the refrigerator — this will cause the temperature of the fridge to rise, endangering the safety of other foods being kept cool.
With these safety tips in hand you can simmer away confidently — crock on!