The Return of the Slow Cooker
Posted: December 13, 2011
Is A Slow Cooker Safe?
Yes, the slow cooker, a countertop appliance, cooks foods slowly at a low temperature -- generally between 170° and 280° F. The low heat helps less expensive, leaner cuts of meat become tender and shrink less. The direct heat from the pot, lengthy cooking and steam created within the tightly-covered container combine to destroy bacteria and make the slow cooker a safe process for cooking foods.
Begin with a clean cooker, clean utensils and a clean work area. Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time. If you cut up meat and vegetables in advance, store them separately in the refrigerator. Constant refrigeration assures that bacteria, which multiply rapidly at room temperature, won't get a "head start" during the first few hours of cooking.
Thaw & Cut up Ingredients
Always defrost meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. Choose to make foods with high moisture content such as chili, soup, and stew or spaghetti sauce.
Cut food into chunks or small pieces to ensure thorough cooking. Do not use the slow cooker for large pieces like a roast or whole chicken because the food will cook so slowly it could remain in the bacterial "danger zone" too long.
Use the Right Amount of Food
Fill cooker no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full. Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry in a slow cooker so if using them, put vegetables in first, at the bottom and around sides of the utensil. Then add meat and cover the food with liquid such as broth, water or barbecue sauce. Keep the lid in place, removing only to stir the food or check for doneness.
Most cookers have two or more settings. Foods take different times to cook depending upon the setting used. Certainly, foods will cook faster on high than on low. However, for all-day cooking or for less-tender cuts, you may want to use the low 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 -- if you're leaving for work, for example, and preparation time is limited.
This article was written by Marcia Weber, Extension Educator and Certified Food Safety Instructor for Penn State Extension in York County. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce. Penn State Extension in York County is located at 112 Pleasant Acres Road, York PA, 17402, phone 717-840-7408, email email@example.com