The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides guidance on which foods need time and temperature control for safety. These food items must be kept at 40°F or below, or heated to 140°F or above, to prevent the growth of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.
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Most cooked foods need to be kept at a safe temperature to prevent food poisoning. Time and temperature control (TC) is vital during the cooking process to make sure food is cooked correctly and does not become unsafe to eat.
There are four key factors that affect the safety of food:
Bacterial growth is the main concern when it comes to food safety, as certain bacteria can cause illness if they are present in food. Toxins are poisonous substances that can be produced by bacteria, while enzymes are proteins that can affect the texture and flavor of food. Spoilage is the process by which food deteriorates and becomes unappetizing or unsafe to eat.
There are two main types of TC: cooking and storage. During cooking, food needs to be heated to a high enough temperature for a long enough time to kill any harmful bacteria. When storing food, it is important to keep it at a safe temperature to prevent bacterial growth.
What is Time and Temperature Control for Safety (TCS)?
Time and Temperature Control for Safety, also known as TCS, is a system of food handling that includes all the procedures and protocols necessary to ensure that food is stored, prepared, and served at safe temperatures. This system is designed to prevent bacterial growth and ensure safe food consumption.
Foods that need time and temperature control for safety are those that are most likely to support the growth of bacteria or other pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses. These foods are generally high in protein or moisture, or both. They include poultry, beef, pork, fish, eggs, dairy products, shellfish, tofu, and prepared meats such as deli meat and hot dogs.
Time and temperature control for safety also applies to cooked foods that will not be consumed immediately. For example, cooked rice or pasta should be kept at 135°F or above if it will not be eaten within four hours. Similarly, soup or gravy should be kept at 165°F or above if it will not be served immediately.
It is important to note that time and temperature control for safety does not necessarily mean that food must be cooked to a certain temperature; rather, it is a system of handling that includes all the procedures necessary to ensure safe food consumption.
Foods that need TCS
There are four main food groups that need to be kept at a safe temperature to prevent foodborne illness: meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. All of these foods can harbor bacteria that can cause food poisoning if they are not cooked or handled properly.
TCS foods are ones that need to be kept at a temperature above 140°F or below 40°F to prevent bacterial growth. That means that they need to either be cooked to a high enough temperature to kill bacteria (above 140°F) or kept cold enough that bacteria cannot grow (below 40°F).
Cooking is the most common way to make TCS foods safe, but keeping food cold can also be effective. Foods that are going to be kept cold need to be cooled down as quickly as possible and then kept at a consistent temperature. That means using a refrigerator or freezer set to the correct temperature and not letting the food sit out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
It’s important to remember that even TCS foods can become unsafe if they are not handled properly. That means keeping raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs away from ready-to-eat food; washing hands, utensils, and surfaces thoroughly; and cooking food to the correct temperature.
The danger zone
In order to prevent foodborne illness, it is important to control both the time and temperature of food. This is especially true for certain foods that are more likely to harbor bacteria.
The danger zone is the temperature range between 40°F and 140°F, in which bacteria can grow rapidly. time and temperatures outside of the danger zone are either too cold or too hot for bacteria to grow.
There are four general categories of food that need to be kept out of the danger zone: meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. These products need to be cooked thoroughly to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present.
It is also important to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Hot foods should be kept at or above 140°F, while cold foods should be kept at or below 40°F. This will help to prevent bacterial growth as well as minimize the risk of cross contamination.
How to prevent foodborne illness
One way to prevent foodborne illness is to control the time and temperature of the food. This means that you will need to cook or reheat the food to a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria that can cause illness. You will also need to keep hot food hot and cold food cold, so that the bacteria does not have a chance to grow.
The following foods need time and temperature control for safety:
-meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and tofu
– dairy products
– cut fruits and vegetables
– cooked rice, pasta, beans, and potatoes
– cooked or canned Ready-to-Eat foods
Food safety tips
You can’t see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria that may cause illness. In every step of food preparation, follow the four steps of the Food Safe Families campaign to keep food healthy and safe:
Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often.
Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate by keeping raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs away from other foods.
Cook: Cook to the right temperature. Use a food thermometer!
Chill: Refrigerate promptly.
Bacteria can grow quickly at warm temperatures (between 40°F and 140°F). If these foods are not kept cold, bacteria can multiply quickly to dangerous levels that can cause illness. Follow these tips to keep foods out of the danger zone:
-Shop for perishable items last.
-Get perishable items home quickly (within 2 hours). If you can’t get home within 2 hours, store perishables in a cooler with ice for transport home.
-Put perishables in the fridge as soon as you get home from the store (within 2 hours).
In general, foods that need time and temperature control for safety are:
-Meat: pork, veal, lamb, beef, poultry
-Eggs and egg products
-Milk and dairy products
-Seafood: fish, shellfish
-Fresh juice made with fruits and vegetables
-Tofu and other soybean products
– stuffed pasta, such as ravioli and manicotti
These food items need to be kept at 41°F or colder or heated to 140°F or hotter. Foods that have been in the Temperature Danger Zone for more than 2 hours should be thrown away.
There are many different types of food, and each one has unique storage requirements. Some foods need to be kept at a certain temperature to stay fresh, while others need to be cooked thoroughly to avoid foodborne illness.
Here are some resources to help you determine which foods need time and temperature control for safety:
-The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service’s “Food Storage” page: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/food-storage/CT_Index
-The USDA’s “Ask Karen” chatbot: https://askkaren.custhelp.com/?servicecategoryid=2828&language=en_US&return_to=%2Fapp%2Futils%2Flogin_form%3Fnext_url%3D%252Fapp%252Fchat%252Fchat_launch&categoryId=0
-The FDA’s “Food Safety for Moms-To-Be” site: https://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/HealthEducators/ucm085493.htm
My name is Marianne Gravely and I am a senior technical information specialist with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). I have more than 25 years of experience working in food safety.
There are many factors to consider when handling food, but two of the most important are time and temperature. Both can contribute to food safety, and both need to be controlled to help prevent foodborne illness.
Time and temperature control is especially important when handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood. These foods can contain harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning if they’re not cooked properly. That’s why it’s important to cook these foods to the right temperature for the right amount of time.
Cooking meat, poultry, and seafood isn’t the only time when time and temperature control is important. Foods that are already cooked can also become contaminated if they’re not kept at the proper temperature. That’s why it’s important to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
There are four main principles of time and temperature control:
1. Cook food to the proper temperature.
2. Keep food out of the “danger zone.”
3. Reheat food to the proper temperature.
4. Cool food properly.