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Your slow cooker guide to safety

February 25, 2009 |  7:31 am

Slowcooker Slow cookers are definitely back. And in a big way. But then who wouldn't like the convenience of a hot meal, ready and waiting after a long day, with just a little early advance preparation?

Just as it takes a few simple tricks to bring out the best in your slow cooker, we have a few simple tips to make sure the meals you make are wonderful -- and safe for consumption. Click below for a list of safety tips, as well as links to additional guidelines and fact sheets.

And let us know if you have additional tips -- or recipes -- to share:

--Never throw frozen foods in a slow cooker; thaw frozen meats and vegetables in the refrigerator before beginning a recipe. If preparing commercially frozen slow-cooker meals, be sure to follow the instructions.

--Cut up large pieces of meat and whole poultry into smaller, uniform pieces before adding them to a slow cooker. Because of the cooker's low heat, large pieces of protein could remain in the bacterial danger zone (40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit) for too long.

--A slow cooker cooks at a consistently low heat. Try not to remove the lid during the cooking process; valuable heat may escape, extending the time it takes to complete a dish. If you need to add additional ingredients or check for seasoning, do so quickly.

--Most slow cookers heat from the bottom and sides of the unit. When packing the insert, plan accordingly. Place items that will take the longest to cook on the bottom and sides of the insert, and items that will cook more quickly toward the center.

--Always use an accurate meat thermometer to check that meat is cooked completely and to a safe temperature.

--Be sure to use recipes specific to the size of your slow cooker. Your insert should be no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full when starting a recipe. Do not overload your slow cooker, as contents may not cook completely and to a safe temperature.

--Do not leave food to cool in the slow cooker, and do not reheat leftovers in it.

--In the event of a power outage, throw the food away (you don't know how long food may have been in the bacterial danger zone).

--There is no industry standard for slow-cooker "high" and "low" temperatures. To test if your slow cooker heats to a final safe temperature, follow these guidelines from Glenyce Peterson-Vangsness, regional extension educator, food science at the University of Minnesota.

For additional tips, check out the USDA Slow Cookers and Food Safety fact sheet and the University of Minnesota's Slow Cooker Food Safety information page.

--Noelle Carter

Photo: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times