Slow Cooker Food Safety and Cooking Times

Slow cookers, often called Crock-Pots after the original, may seem like a throwback to the 1970s but it turns out that twice as many households use one today as did just a generation ago. Given the number of today’s two-earner families and overstuffed schedules, that comes as no surprise. Perfect for soups, stews, and tough cuts of meat, slow cookers are designed to simmer food at a low temperature, generally between 170° and 280° F, for an extended period of time. The newer models feature electronic controls that let you program cooking time, usually in 30-minute intervals, and that automatically switch to warm when cooking is done. Another advantage over the 1970s is all the slow cooker recipes you can find online.

Slow Cooker or Crock Pot Food Safety

Your slow cooker should have come with instructions on how use it to safely prepare food. Below is a brief summary of information from reputable sources. How you prepare, cook, store, and reheat food can impact your health, please carefully consider any advice you receive online, and determine whether or not is based on science. Foodborne illness is not uncommon, but with the right precautions it can be prevented.

 

Before you cook with a Slow Cooker

  • As with any cooking method, start out with clean surfaces, cooking device, utensils, and always wash your hands.
  • Refrigerate all perishable ingredients until you are ready to use them.
  • If frozen, properly thaw meat or poultry before putting it in your slow cooker.
  • The safest way to defrost meat or poultry is in the refrigerator, at a temperature below 40°F (4.4 °C), so plan ahead!
  • Some varieties of dried or uncooked beans, such as kidney beans, contain a toxic protein called phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) that may not be destroyed by the low heat of a slow cooker. Undercooked beans may be more toxic than raw beans. To prepare these beans:
    • Soak in water for at least 5 hours.
    • Pour away and discard the water.
    • Boil briskly in fresh water, with occasional stirring, for at least 10 minutes.
    • Transfer to your slow cooker with other ingredients and continue cooking.
    • Note: these steps are not necessary if you are using canned beans. Canned beans can be added without any preparation.

 

Slow Cooker Food Safety

  • It is safe to cook large cuts of meat and poultry in a slow cooker, but be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure your particular slow cooker is of the proper size for the cut you are cooking.
  • Try not to peek! The lid of your slow cooker holds in the heat and makes sure the proper temperature is reached.
  • Slow cookers have different settings. Please refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for the one you have. In general, it is safe to cook on either high or low, or a combination of the two. Some recipes may call for the first hour on high, and the rest on low. Whatever method you use, food should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature as measured with a thermometer.
  • Warming mode should not be used to cook food, but may be able to keep already cooked food above 140°F (60°C). A food thermometer can be used to verify food remains at a safe temperature.
  • In the event of a power outage in the middle of cooking, immediately resume cooking at a friend or neighbor’s house, or by other means. Transfer the contents of your slow cooker to the appropriate container and use a gas stove or a grill outside. Do not use the ceramic insert of your slow cooker with direct heat unless it is designed for such use.
  • If your food had already reached the target temperature and was completely cooked, it should remain safe for up to 2 hours with the power off.

 

After you’re done cooking with Slow Cooker

  • To safely store leftovers from your slow cooker, transfer to shallow, covered containers and place the containers in the refrigerator or freezer within 2 hours. Transferring to smaller containers helps to cool the food rapidly and quickly bypass the “danger zone” (40°F to 140°F, 4.4°C to 60°C) where bacteria rapidly reproduce.
  • Do not reheat leftovers in a slow cooker. Use an appropriate container for the stove, oven, or microwave, and heat leftovers to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F (73.9°C).

Recommended Safe Cooking Times for Slow Cooker

Approximate Cook Times for Different Meats

Meat cutWeightLowHigh
Large Pork Roast16-7 lbs (2.7-3.2 Kg)9½ hrs.7½ hrs.
Pork Loin3-4 lbs. (1.4-1.8 Kg)6 hrs.5 hrs.
Poultry26 lbs (2.7 Kg)7½ hrs.6¼ hrs.
Beef Roast3-4 lbs. (1.4-1.8 Kg)8 hrs.5¾ hrs.
Stew Beef3 lbs. (1.4 Kg)6 hrs.4¾ hrs.
Fish32 lbs. (.91 Kg)3½ hrs.1½ hrs.

Note: All cook times are approximate. Appropriate cook time varies according to specific meat characteristics for fat content and connective tissue as well as other ingredients added to dish, including liquid, size of meat cubes, type of vegetable, size of vegetable dice, how high slow cooker is filled, etc. Pork and beef should reach an internal temperature between 195-205ºF.

1 – Pork butt, pork shoulder
2 – Whole chicken/Bone-in Turkey breast
3 – If fish is stirred in after slow cooker has been fully heated to stabilization/simmer point, it will cook within 15-30 minutes