Safe Food Storage: Know Your Temps


Every step of the food manufacturing, preparing, and serving industry is governed by strict regulations designed to keep consumers safe and healthy. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of every person in the food handling chain to ensure that all safety regulations are met. One of the biggest areas of concern is the temperature danger zone, or the window in which foods are likely to become unsafe. Here is what you need to know about safe food storage temperatures.

What is the Temperature Danger Zone?

The temperature danger zone ranges from 41 to 139 degrees Fahrenheit. These are the temperatures at which bacteria grows most rapidly, causing spoilage and risking consumer safety. Foods must be kept outside the temperature danger zone through proper storage, chilling, and reheating techniques.

How Long Does It Take for Food to Spoil? 

It would be impossible to handle, cook, or serve food without taking it through the temperature danger zone. In general, foods should remain within the danger zone for no longer than two hours. If the ambient temperature is above 90 degrees, foods must exit the danger zone within just one hour. Any longer, and bacteria can grow to unsafe levels.

Keeping Food Safe

Cold foods must be kept cold, below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot foods must be kept hot, above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The easiest way to do this is to use proper commercial refrigerators, freezers, and warming equipment, and to take temperatures regularly. Clean and calibrate your thermometers regularly, and keep written records of temperatures and what time and date they were taken.

If you are holding food, such as on a salad bar or in a chafing dish, take its temperature every two hours. This allows you to take corrective measures to save the food should it enter the temperature danger zone. Keep held food covered whenever possible to help maintain consistent temperatures and block contaminants, and stir hot foods frequently to distribute heat.

Rapid Cooling

One of the toughest points in the safe food storage chain is taking hot food from a safe holding temperature above 140 to a safe storage temperature below 40. The temperature of the food must drop 100 degrees within two hours. Yet placing hot food directly into the refrigerator or freezer raises the ambient temperature and could put nearby food at risk. Fortunately, there are a few ways to rapidly cool hot food to a safe cold storage temperature:

  • Shallow Containers: Simply distributing hot food into shallow containers will allow faster and more even cooling.

  • Blast Chiller: A commercial blast chiller is designed for rapid cooling of all types of hot foods.

  • Cooling Paddle: Made of food grade plastic, a cooling paddle can be filled with water and frozen anytime ahead of cooking. Plunge it into a pot of hot liquid food such as soup or stew, or lay it on top of a hot semi-solid food such as a casserole, to quickly bring down the temperature.

  • Ice Bath: Fill the sink or another large container with ice, and bury a container of hot food inside for rapid cooling.


Focus Works is proud to be the recognized leader in production control & food safety software systems for the baking and food industry. Our mission is to produce software solutions that provide a six month or less return on investment for plant automation processes. We can provide total integrated plant solutions to boost your production while reducing losses. Call us today at 631-758-3629 to learn how we can help.

Robert White, PhD
Focus Works Inc.