What is Hot? What is Cool?To a jazz musician, these questions are definitely up for debate. But when you're in the food business, you had better know exactly what they mean in your kitchen.

Take the first question for example. What is hot? The short answer is: 60°C or above. Holding food at this temperature or above can prevent the hazardous growth of pathogens - E. coli, Salmonella, and many more.

However, does that mean simply setting the temperature of a food warmer to 60°C? Or, assuming that a steam table will heat the food to 60°C? Accepting any of these assumptions would be wrong and you can never afford to be wrong when it comes to food safety. Heating equipment dials control the heat of the unit but not specifically the food temperature. And they are not designed to make food hot only to keep it hot.

So, always double-check your food temperatures with a good quality thermometer. Check to make sure the food is above 60°C throughout and keep a log. Be sure to keep food stirred so that the temperature remains constant. Also make sure food remains covered to keep the heat inside.

There's one more thing to remember: Hot food serving utensils allowed to grow cold are potential sources of contamination. So, keep utensils inside the food where they, too, will remain hot.

What is cool? According to the 1999 FDA Food Code, cool is 5°C or below. What this means is that you need to be vigilant with your walk-in coolers and any cold-holding equipment used for serving. For your walk-ins, make sure the temperatures are cool enough by checking and logging the temperatures of the units routinely, while also checking actual food temperatures and checking for warm spots. On cold holding units in service areas, check food temperature at least every hour. You can always be sure that the temperatures you are monitoring are correct when you use a high-quality food thermometer.

Can you reheat food that has been cooled? As long as you follow standard food safety guidelines described in the 1999 FDA Food Code or your local health code, you can reheat food. It should reach a temperature of 75°C for at least 15 seconds or longer, and must reach this temperature within two hours.

In all, any food that has been exposed to temperatures in the hazard zone (5°C to 60°C) for more than four hours total should be discarded. This total includes any time the food sat warming on the receiving dock, or any other time in its entire flow through your operation where it was exposed to pathogen-friendly temperatures. There is no reliable way to know if the food you are holding is at the right temperature without using an accurate thermometer.

So, If you want to run a hot business, while being cool with your customers and inspectors, keep hot foods hot and cool foods cool.


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