Keeping Food Safe in a Slow Cooker

January 09, 2017 | Jody Gatewood

Slow cooker vegetarian chili

We often get request for recipes that can be made in a slow cooker. It’s not surprising since you can add the ingredients to the slow cooker, turn it on, and then go about your day while the food cooks. No need to spend a lot of time in the kitchen when you have other things you need to do! Here are some tips to keep food safe when using a slow cooker.

  1. Cook foods using the low or high heat setting. If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe. However, it’s safe to cook foods on low the entire time. Do not use the warm setting to cook food. It is designed to keep cooked food hot.
  2. Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. If frozen pieces are used, they will not reach 140°F quick enough and could possibly result in a foodborne illness. If possible, cut the meat into small chunks. The temperature danger zone is between 40°F and 140°. If food is in this temperature zone for more than 2 hours, harmful bacteria may grow to unsafe levels.
  3. Place vegetables on the bottom and near the sides of the slow cooker. Vegetables cook the slowest, so you want them near the heat.
  4. Keep the lid in place. Each time the lid is raised, the internal temperature drops 10 to 15 degrees and the cooking process is slowed by 30 minutes.
  5. Place leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate. Do not leave cooked food to cool down in the slow cooker.
  6. Reheat food on the stove top or microwave and transfer to a slow cooker to keep warm (140°F or above). Do not reheat food or leftovers in a slow cooker.

For additional information on slow cookers and food safety, visit:

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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