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Are Slow Cookers Safe?

Chicken in a crock pot

Chicken in a slow cooker

Absolutely, as long as they are used properly.  A slow cooker is a small electric countertop appliance that cooks food at a low temperature, usually between 170° and 280° F. for several hours.  The principles of slow cooking involve direct heat, extended cooking time and steam created within the tightly covered container.  This is why you don’t want to lift the lid during cooking.

As with any cooked food, time and temperature control are critical for safety.  These cooking temperatures will ensure that the food has reached the minimum internal temperature necessary to destroy harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.

Slow cooking is a safe, easy and economical method to prepare food. From appetizers to desserts, you can make almost anything in a slow cooker.  With a little advance preparation, you can cook nutritious and delicious food and save time in the long run.  Slow cookers also use less electricity and don’t heat up the kitchen like a full size oven, which is really good during the hot summer months.

Moose Stew

Slow cooker meal

Getting Started
  • Begin with a slow cooker of adequate size to accommodate the amount of ingredients in the recipe. Slow cookers are available in a variety of sizes, usually from 3 to 8 quarts.  Recipes will specify the capacity of cooker required.
  • Always use a “tested” slow cooker recipe. Slow cookers operate differently than other methods of cooking.
  • It is important, for safety reasons, to follow the recipe exactly. There is a ratio of solid food (meat, poultry, vegetables, etc.) to liquid (broth, water, juice, sauce, etc.) to ensure the food cooks properly.
    DO NOT overfill the cooking container.
  • AVOID frequent lifting of the lid while cooking. The lid should remain in place to maintain a safe temperature.  Lift lid only to stir or check doneness.
  • Most slow cookers have at least two heat settings – low and high. The type of food will determine the heat setting and duration of cooking.
  • Food ingredients:
    • Always thaw meat or poultry before putting into the slow cooker.
    • Keep food refrigerated until just prior to putting into the slow cooker.
    • Use the exact amount of food and liquid according to the recipe.
    • Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry and should be added first and placed on the bottom of the container.

      Food thermometer

      Food thermometer

  • Leftovers: Just as with any cooked leftover, refrigerate promptly. Reheat leftovers in a microwave oven, on top of the stove or in a conventional oven until the internal food temperature has reached at least 165 degrees F. as measured with a food thermometer.  DO NOT reheat in a slow cooker.
CAUTION:
  • If you are not at home for the entire cooking time and the power goes out, the food must be thrown away.
  • If you are home when the power goes out, immediately remove the food from the slow cooker container and finish cooking on an outdoor grill, gas stove or at another location where there is electricity.
  • When you are at home and the food was completely cooked before the power went out, the food should remain safe up to two hours in the covered cooker without power.

    Plug it in

    Don’t forget!

And don’t forget … Make sure the slow cooker is plugged in and turned on.

Click here to visit the United States Department of Agriculture’s website for detailed information on slow cookers and food safety.