Cool soup safely during National Soup Month

Failing to properly cool foods is a leading cause of foodborne illness, follow these guidelines to ensure your batches of soup are cooled safely.

The month of January has been declared as National Soup Month. I am not sure where this declaration began, but what better month to enjoy nice hot, wholesome and nutritious soups. Soup has been a popular dish for many years, it is convenient since it can be heated quickly for a meal, it can be served as a side dish or a main meal, it is often thought of as a “comfort food” when we are feeling poorly and most of the time it can be nutritious.

Many of us prepare batches of soup on our days off to enjoy during the week at lunchtime or for a quick evening meal. Regardless of when or how often you prepare a batch of soup, it is important to remember a few food safety guidelines, especially cooling. 

Research has shown us one of the leading causes of foodborne illness is failing to properly cool foods. The Temperature Danger Zone (40 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees F) is where pathogens grow most quickly. Think how hot a fresh pot of soup is once you have finished cooking it. It can take a long time to cool food safely through the Temperature Danger Zone when cooling a large pot of soup, chili, stew or sauce. The soup must cool from 140 degrees F to 70 degrees F in two hours and from 70 degrees F to 40 degrees F in no more than four hours, this is called the two-stage cooling method. In order to do this, it is important to have a food thermometer to measure the temperature of the food as it cools.

The best ways to cool food are:

Use an ice water bath

An ice water bath helps decrease the food temperature quickly and safely.

  • Fill a large container or clean sink with ice and just a small amount of water.
  • Place your kettle of soup, chili, stew or sauce into the ice bath.
  • Stir the soup, chili, stew or sauce to speed the cooling process.

Use shallow pans

The smaller the portions, the faster the food will cool.

  • Divide your large batch into smaller containers, no deeper than 3 inches.
  • Stir occasionally to speed the cooling process.

Use ice in the recipe

Reduce the cooling time by substituting water for ice, adapt your recipe accordingly.

  • Prepare a thicker recipe; reduce the original amount of water called for in the recipe.
  • Add ice as the final step in the recipe.

Use cooling paddles or ice wand

These are usually found in commercial kitchens, but may be purchased at restaurant supply stores.

  • The paddle is filled with water, wrapped in protective plastic and placed in the freezer.
  • When the soup is finished, remove the pot from stove, remove the paddle from the freezer and use to stir the soup in the kettle to speed the cooling process.

A large container of hot contents placed directly into a refrigerator will never cool in a safe amount of time, allowing potential pathogens to grow, even in your refrigerator. It will also raise the internal temperature of your refrigerator. It is also not recommended to leave a hot container on the counter or stove to “cool” by itself.  This leaves the food in the Temperature Danger Zone, allowing potential pathogens to grow. Do not rely on the cold of the outdoors to safely cool food, such as sticking containers in the garage or car to safely cool.

Michigan State University Extension suggests you plan ahead when preparing batches of soup, chili, stew or sauces. Be prepared with a cooling plan, have extra containers on hand to divide the contents of a large batch into smaller batches. Also, once you have placed your cooled food into the refrigerator or freezer, do not stack it until it is completely cooled. Allow about an inch of space for cool air to circulate and finish the cooling or freezing process before you stack your stash of delicious meals. By having a plan and the right tools, including a food thermometer to monitor temperature, you will be protecting yourself and your family from a potential foodborne illness.

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