The USDA has published a food safety info sheet on how to safely use slow cookers. With Easter and Passover right around the corner, slow cookers are going to be used to help handle celebratory meals.
Slow cookers are safe to use because they cook food at temperatures between 170 degrees F and 280 degrees F. Newer slow cookers are cooking at a hotter temperature than those that were made ten years ago. The heat in the pot, steam created with the sealed cover, and long cooking times destroy bacteria.
To make sure that the food you cook in your crockpot is safe, begin with a clean cooker, clean hands, utensils and work area. Keep perishable foods refrigerated until you are ready to cook. You can prepare meats and vegetables in advance, but store them in the refrigerator.
Use the right amount of food in the appliance. It should be filled between 1/2 and 2/3 full. If there isn’t enough food, the food may burn. If the slow cooker is filled too much, the food may not cook through in time, which creates a food safety issue. If you’re cooking a large cut of meat, make sure it fits within the slow cooker and leave enough room so the lid fits securely and there is space around the sides of the meat.
Leave the lid in place when the slow cooker is turned on. Whenever the lid is removed, heat escapes and you should add 20 minutes cooking time. If condensation appears on the lid, spin the lid to remove it so you can see the food to check on it.
It’s a good idea to use high heat for the first hour of cooking, since it will get the food through the danger zone of 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F. quickly. But cooking for hours on low is completely safe.
If the power goes out while the slow cooker is on and you are not home, discard the food. You don’t know how long it may have been sitting there uncooked. If you are at home and the power goes out, finish cooking the food immediately on the stovetop.
Don’t store leftovers in the crockpot. Its thick sides will prevent the quick cooling necessary to stop bacterial growth. Don’t reheat leftovers in the crockpot. But you can reheat food in the microwave or on the stovetop, then place it in the crockpot, turned on low, to keep the food warm after it reaches 165 degrees F.