Food-Safety Tips for Cooking with a Crock Pot

By: Patsy Jamieson

Is your slow cooker making you sick? These 8 tips will ensure you cook good-for-you food everytime you pull out your crock pot.

Pizza Spaghetti

Pictured recipe: Pizza Spaghetti

A slow cooker is certainly convenient, but if not used correctly there is the potential for food-safety hazards. Temperatures between 40° and 140°F fall into the so-called "Danger Zone" since bacteria thrive in these temperatures. When using a slow cooker be sure to take precautions that keep food from being in the Danger Zone for too long.

Related: The Essential Beginner's Guide to Cooking with Your Slow Cooker

1. Choose the Right Recipes for Your Crock Pot

Vegetable and Pasta Soup

Pictured recipe: Vegetable and Pasta Soup

Choose dishes with high moisture contents, such as soups and stews, for slow cooking. The moisture generates steam which facilitates cooking and helps raise the temperature above the danger zone quickly.

Try these: Slow-Cooker Soup & Stew Recipes

2. Don't Use Frozen Meat

Slow-Cooker Braised Beef with Carrots & Turnips

Pictured recipe: Slow-Cooker Braised Beef with Carrots & Turnips

Do not put frozen, raw meat in the slow cooker. Because of the amount of time it takes the slow cooker to defrost the heat and bring it all the way to fully cooked, the meat spends to long in the Danger Zone and harmful bacteria and reproduce quickly. Instead, defrost meat and poultry thoroughly in the refrigerator before slow cooking.

3. Refrigerate Prepared Ingredients

Slow-Cooker Pasta e Fagioli Soup Freezer Pack

Pictured recipe: Slow-Cooker Pasta e Fagioli Soup Freezer Pack

Refrigerate any prepped ingredients in separate storage containers prior to cooking. Do not refrigerate uncooked ingredients in the slow cooker insert because the cold insert will take too long to reach cooking temperature.

Related: These Slow-Cooker Freezer Meals Are Going to Save Your Weeknights

4. Cut Up Meat and Poultry

Slow-Cooker Mediterranean Chicken & Orzo

Pictured recipe: Slow-Cooker Mediterranean Chicken & Orzo

Cut meat and poultry into chunks or small pieces to ensure thorough cooking. Do not attempt to cook a whole chicken or large roast in a slow cooker. The slow cooker cannot heat the large piece of meat quickly enough to avoid a food-safety risk.

5. Avoid Overfilling

Slow-Cooker Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

Pictured recipe: Slow-Cooker Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

Don't overfill your slow cooker. Fill it no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full.

Related: 7 Tricks for Better Cooking in Your Crock Pot

6. Pay Attention to Temperature

Pot Roast Rigatoni Stew

Pictured recipe: Pot Roast Rigatoni Stew

If you're cooking meat and poultry on low, the USDA suggests that you start the dish on high for the first hour, then switch to low for the remainder of the cooking time. However, since this may not always be practical, we advise you to bring liquids to a simmer before adding them to the slow cooker on low, thereby jump-starting the creation of heat.

7. Don't Lift the Lid

Slow-Cooker French Onion Soup

Pictured recipe: Slow-Cooker French Onion Soup

Avoid lifting the lid during cooking because it can cause the slow cooker to lose heat and will also affect cooking time. Do so only toward the end of cooking to check doneness.

Related: The Most Genius Way to Cook French Onion Soup

8. Don't Reheat Food in Your Slow Cooker

Chicken Pho

Pictured recipe: Chicken Pho

Do not reheat food in the slow cooker—it takes too long to reach a safe temperature. Use the stovetop or microwave for reheating. However, you can use a slow cooker to keep food hot up to 2 hours before serving.

Related: Crock Pot Recipes to Cook Once and Eat Twice

WATCH: How-To Tips for Healthy Crock Pot Recipes

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