Stand-Up Training: Cooling Food Safely

Using a blast chiller is one way to safely cool leftover food.

Empower Employees Through Food Safety Training

Help reinforce good food safety practices in your establishment through stand-up meetings. Use this training outline as a guide for your next meeting. Cooling food safely prevents dangerous bacterial growth in food.

Learning Objectives

You may choose to read these learning objectives with your employees as a part of the stand-up training.

After this training, employees should be able to:

  • Explain the connection between foodborne illness and unsafe cooling
  • Identify the time limits and key temperatures for cooling food safely
  • Use safe cooling techniques

The Facts

You may choose to read these facts with your employees as a part of the stand-up training.

  • Some foods grow bacteria quickly in the temperature danger zone, the temperature range between 135°F (57°C) and 41°F (5°C). These foods are called Time/Temperature Control for Safety (TCS) foods.
  • To cool food safely, it must be cooled from 135°F (57°C) to 41°F (5°C) in six hours or less.
  • During cooling, food should spend no more than two hours above 70°F (21°C).
  • Food that has not been cooled safely must be thrown away.

Training Activities

Choose the activities that will be most beneficial for your employees. Modify them as needed to fit the training needs of your establishment.

The “Why” of Safe Cooling

Discuss: Why is safe cooling so important?

Watch: Unsafe Cooling video

Read: It may surprise you to learn that improperly cooled food is a common cause of foodborne illness. Food passes through the temperature danger zone as it cools, which gives bacteria a chance to multiply quickly. Time and temperature control is essential when it comes to safe cooling. If cooling food does not reach refrigeration temperatures quickly enough, bacteria can make it dangerous to eat.

Throw It Away

Read: Food that has been cooled unsafely is dangerous to eat and must be thrown away. If we serve unsafe food, we could cause a foodborne illness outbreak.

Display: Use food as a visual aid to explain this concept. Put a large batch of TCS food on the counter. If possible, use food that has already cooled incorrectly so employees can watch you throw that food away. Don’t embarrass anyone by pointing out who cooled the food incorrectly, but do emphasize the money and time lost when you throw the food away.

Discuss: What should you do if the food does not reach 41°F in the six-hour time limit?

Explain: You must throw it away, regardless of the kind of food or the amount. If food cools incorrectly, it goes in the garbage.

Time and Temperature Tips

Read: When cooling, food must pass through the temperature danger zone (135°F–41°F) in six hours or less. The six-hour cooling period begins when food reaches 135°F. Most foodborne pathogens multiply fastest between 70°F and 135°F, so food should spend no more than two hours above 70°F. Since the entire cooling period can only take six hours, if food is cooled from 135°F to 70°F in one hour that means there are five hours left to cool the food the rest of the way to 41°F.

Display: Use the Two-Stage Cooling poster to illustrate your explanation. You can print and hang this visual as a reminder to food handlers.

Read and Demonstrate (if possible): Six hours might seem like a long time, but when you’re working with large amounts of hot food, cooling it correctly can be difficult. The right technique can make all the difference. Here are some ideas to cool food successfully:

  • Divide food into smaller portions using shallow containers. This makes it much easier for heat to escape and helps food cool faster.
  • Cover food loosely while it cools in the refrigerator so that heat can escape more easily. If nothing can contaminate the food from above, you can leave the food uncovered while it cools. Once food has finished cooling, cover it tightly.
  • Stir food frequently to help heat escape.
  • Use metal containers to cool foods since plastic transfers heat more slowly than metal.
  • Cool food in an ice bath. To use an ice bath, surround a container of food with ice water that goes above the level of the food inside the container (but does not spill into the container). Stir the food to move the colder food from the edges into the warmer center.
  • Add ice as an ingredient to food or stir liquid foods with an ice paddle. Placing ice or an ice paddle in food will drop its temperature quickly.
  • Use blast chillers and tumblers to cool food to refrigeration temperatures. These machines are particularly helpful for cooling large amounts of food.
  • Combine methods to cool food even faster. For example, food workers could place food in an ice bath and stir it with an ice paddle, or they could divide food into smaller portions and cover them loosely in the refrigerator.

One way to safely cool food is to put it in the refrigerator.

Following Up

Use these ideas to follow up with your employees and make sure they’re practicing safe cooling.

  1. Observe employees as they cool food during a normal shift. To check their understanding, ask them to describe the cooling process and explain the reason behind each step. Offer feedback as needed. Shift managers can be trained to do this and report back to you.
  2. Create a cooling log for your establishment. Logs are a convenient place where employees can record times and temperatures for the food that they cool. Cooling logs help remind employees of the safety procedures that they should follow. Logs also help you monitor whether food is being cooled safely.

Make sure your shift managers and supervisors can answer questions that other employees may have about the cooling process. Encourage employees to ask questions when they need help instead of guessing at the right answer.

As needed, review this training with your employees.

Training Resources

The video Unsafe Cooling shows an animation of bacteria growing in a pot of soup as it cools. It’s a great resource for helping employees understand why safe cooling is so important.

View the Spanish version of this video: Enfriando Alimentos.

Use the Two-Stage Cooling poster to illustrate your explanation of the safe cooling process. It can also be posted in the preparation area to help remind food workers about safe cooling.

Did you use this stand-up training in your establishment? We’d love to get your feedback! Submit your comments through our five-minute survey.

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— Alyssa Erickson

Updated: May 6, 2019 — 8:23 pm

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