Keep food safe with time and temperature control

Thermometer saying spoilage.

A leading cause of foodborne illness is time and temperature abuse of TCS (food requiring time and temperature control for safety) foods. TCS foods are time and temperature abused any time they’re in the temperature danger zone, 41 to 140 degrees F. This occurs when food is:

  • Not cooked to the recommended minimum internal temperature.
  • Not held at the proper temperature.
  • Not cooled or reheated properly.
Temperature danger zone: 41 to 140 F.

The longer food is in the temperature danger zone, the more time pathogens have to grow. The goal is to reduce the amount of time TCS food spends in the temperature danger zone. If food is held in this range for four or more hours, you must throw it out. It’s better to check temps every two hours and take corrective action when needed.

Time and temperature

Do you get confused over all the specific time and temperature requirements? For a quick and reliable reference, print a copy of Minnesota Department of Health fact sheet, Temperature Requirements for Potentially Hazardous Foods (Feb 2015). All the following times and temps are included.       

Cold holding - 41 F or less

Cold foods must be maintained at 41 F or less.

Cooking temperatures

The following MUST be cooked to listed internal temperatures and times:

145 F or above for 15 seconds

  • Eggs for immediate service.
  • Fish (except as otherwise required).
  • Meat (except as otherwise required).
  • Commercially raised game animals (except as otherwise required).

155 F or above for 15 seconds, or 
150 F or above for one minute, or 
145 F or above for three minutes

  • Chopped or ground meat.
  • Chopped or ground fish.
  • Chopped or ground commercially raised game animals.
  • Pork.
  • Injected meats.
  • Eggs cooked for hot holding.

165 F or above for 15 seconds

  • Poultry.
  • Stuffed food products.
  • Stuffing containing fish, meat, poultry or wild game animals.

Microwave cooking to 165 F

Time and temperature control for safety foods cooked in a microwave must be cooked to 165 F. The product must be covered, and rotated or stirred during the cooking process. After cooking, allow two minutes stand time before serving.

Hot holding temperatures at 140 F or above

Hot food must be maintained at 140 F or above.

Cool foods as quick as possible

Foods must be cooled from 140 to 70 F within 2 hours and from 70 to 41 F within an additional 4 hours. The goal is to cool foods as quickly as possible.

Reheat foods to 165 F for 15 seconds

Food that is reheated must reach a minimum internal temperature of at least 165 F for 15 seconds. Reheating must be done rapidly and the minimum temperature must be reached within two hours. Steam tables, warmers, or similar equipment do not heat food quickly enough and must not be used for reheating food.

Tools for temperature control

Train your staff

Remember it’s your responsibility to provide the training and the tools your staff needs to monitor time and temperature. Your staff needs to learn:

  • What to do.
  • How to do it.
  • Why it’s important. 
  • What corrective action to take, if necessary.

Provide thermometers and temperature logs

Along with training, provide your staff with thermometers and temperature logs for successful monitoring.

If you need help with selecting the right thermometers for your business, Iowa State University Extension has developed an excellent resource, Thermometer Use in Retail Foodservice Establishments. It provides details of commonly used temperature-sensing devices and how to use them to ensure food safety and quality.

    Kathy Brandt, Extension educator and Suzanne Driessen, Extension educator

    Reviewed in 2018

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