Safety precautions for slow cookers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultry Hotline encourages Americans to take the necessary steps this winter to ensure proper food safety when preparing meals in a slow cooker.

While many people long for the inviting smells of classics like beef stew and casseroles, there is a vast collection of recipes for everything from ethnic to vegetarian dinners. While slow cooking is a great way to prepare a home-cooked meal, don’t take any food safety shortcuts in the process.

The following recommendations help reduce the threat of foodborne illness.

Is a slow cooker safe?

Yes, it cooks foods slowly at a low temperature — generally between 170 degrees and 280 degrees.

The low heat helps less expensive, leaner cuts of meat become tender and shrink less. The direct heat, lengthy cooking time and steam combine to destroy bacteria.

Thaw and cut ingredients

Always defrost meat and poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. Choose to make foods with high moisture content, such as chili, stew or soup.

Cut food into small pieces to ensure thorough cooking.

Do not use the slow cooker for large pieces because the food could remain in the bacterial “Danger Zone” — between 40 degrees and 140 degrees — too long.

Use right amount of food: Fill the slow cooker no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full.

Vegetables cook slower so put vegetables in first, at the bottom and around sides of the appliance. Then add meat and cover the food with liquid.

Settings: Foods take different times to cook depending upon the setting used. For all–day cooking or for less-tender cuts, you may want to use the low setting.

If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour and then to low.

Power out:If for some reason the power goes out and you are not home, there is no way to tell if the food got fully cooked, so it is best to throw the food away.

Angela Treadaway can be reached by phone at 669–6763 or 410–3696.