Fall is a great time for using your crock pot to prepare convenient meals

Follow these guidelines to avoid foodborne illness when using your crock pot for food preparation

A crock pot cooks foods slowly at a low temperature, generally between 170 and 280 degrees Fahrenheit. This low heat helps less expensive and leaner cuts of meat become tender and shrink less. It also takes less electricity to use a crock pot than an oven. The direct heat from the pot, lengthy cooking and steam created within the tightly-covered container combine to destroy bacteria and make the crock pot a safe process for cooking foods.

When preparing food to use in the crock put, cut food into chunks or small pieces to ensure thorough cooking. Fill the pot no less than half-full and no more than two-thirds full. Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry, so put them in first, at the bottom and around the sides of the pot. Then add defrosted meat and cover the food with liquid such as broth or water. Keep the lid in place, removing only to stir the food or check for doneness.

Foods take different times to cook depending upon the setting used. If possible, turn the crock pot on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe. It is safe to cook foods on low the entire time. Some newer models have three settings: “low,” “high” and “auto.” The auto feature sets the crock pot on high for the first hour and then it automatically turns the crock pot to low.

Reheating leftovers in a crock pot is not recommended. However, cooked food can be brought to steaming on the stovetop or in a microwave oven and then put into a preheated crock pot to keep hot for serving.

To check your crock pot’s ability to reach and maintain a safe temperature to kill bacteria, fill the crock pot two-thirds full with water. Cover the crock pot and turn the temperature setting on high. Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the water two hours later. Your crock pot has passed the test if it is able to reach 160 F or higher within two hours. If it has not reached 160 F within two hours, it is not safe to use.

For more information on food safety in your home, visit the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety Education website.

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