Have you ever gotten food at a buffet and got back to your table only to find it was cold? Your first bite was almost certainly an unpleasant surprise.
Not only is cold buffet food unappetizing, it can be dangerous. Anytime the temperature of TCS (Time/temperature Control for Safety) food falls between 41–135°F, the number of pathogens in the food start growing quickly. The longer food stays in the temperature danger zone, the more dangerous it becomes.
Hot holding temperatures should stay above 135°F
It’s an important part of your job as a food handler to keep held food out of the temperature danger zone. Check food warmers, steam tables, and hot holding units regularly to make sure hot TCS foods are being held at 135°F or hotter.
Cold holding temperatures should stay below 41°F
Just like hot TCS foods, pathogens in cold TCS foods can reach dangerous levels if the food stays in the temperature danger zone too long. To keep them safe, make sure the cold holding tables, freezers, and refrigeration units keep cold-held foods at 41°F or colder.
Check the temperature of held food
Don’t rely on the thermometers on the holding units alone. In order to prevent foodborne illness at your establishment, you should check the internal temperature of hot- and cold-held food periodically to make sure it stays out of the danger zone.
For hot foods, use a handheld food thermometer to double-check food temperatures. You should also check cold foods for any signs that they may be thawing or melting.
Use our Holding Time and Temperature Log to record hot and cold holding temperatures. Seeing the log will remind you to double-check the temperatures and allow your manager to verify that food is not being held at unsafe temperatures.
Download PDF: Holding Time and Temperature Log
Download Word Document: Holding Time and Temperature Log
For more information about keeping TCS food safe to eat, check out our food handlers training.
— Jessica Pettit
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness