For restaurants, keeping food temps out of ‘danger zone’ can be a challenge

Updated: Sep. 19, 2019 at 2:21 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - It sounds simple: keep hot foods hot, keep cold foods cold. But getting food temperatures right isn’t easy.

“I would say most of the time, 75 to 80 percent we have some type of issue, we find something out of temperature,” Jerene Breyer of the Henrico County Health Department said.

Breyer says restaurants are expected to keep food either below 41 degrees or above 135 degrees. The temperature range in between is called “the danger zone.”

“[The range] will support growth for bacteria and if they abuse the time and temperature, that bacteria can grow and can make someone sick," Breyer said. "A lot of restaurants will have a check list, books and logs for temperatures, which is very helpful. It’s very good managerial control of that.”

But temperature checks aren’t limited to foods on the line. Thawing and cooling food is also a challenge. Breyer says the best way to thaw food is in the fridge, but that takes time. Instead, restaurants can run frozen food under cool water. They can’t use warm water because if the food goes above 41 degrees during the process, it’s not good. A restaurant can also use a microwave to thaw, but the food needs to be cooked right away, because it heats unevenly.

When it comes to cooling foods down, it takes a while. Restaurants have six hours to complete the two-step cooling process: two hours to get food from 135 degrees to 70 degrees and then another four to get food to 41 degrees.

“Cooling is difficult to do. People don’t realize it takes as long as it does,” Breyer said. “We have a lot of places doing cooling logs just to show that they can’t do it as quick as they can.”

Then there’s the challenge of buffets. Cold food can be on the buffet line for six hours, as long as it doesn’t go over 70 degrees. Hot food is allowed to be on a buffet for four hours, and doesn’t have to stay out of the danger zone.

“Certain foods have a tendency not to hold properly," Breyer said. “Like fried chicken. A lot of surface area, it cools down very fast."

It’s a lot for restaurants to keep track of, but these guidelines help ensure your food is safe to eat.

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