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Slow Cookers

How to Use a Slow Cooker Safely

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Many people wonder whether slow cookers can cook food safely at low temperatures. The short answer is yes. Slow cookers heat to about 200°F on low and 300°F on high—hot enough to kill bacteria, which can’t multiply at temperatures below 40°F or above 140°F. (All bacteria are killed at 165°F.) When used correctly, slow cookers are completely safe.

How to Use a Slow Cooker Safely

The following guidelines will ensure that you use your slow cooker safely:

  • Lid: Don’t lift the lid while the slow cooker is cooking, unless the recipe instructs you to do so. Lifting the lid causes the temperature to drop 10–15°F. Add a half hour to the total cooking time any time you lift the lid.
  • Amount of food: The crock should be at least half full of cooking food and no more than two-thirds full.
  • Cook with liquid: Whether it’s water, broth, or barbecue sauce, always have some liquid in the crock when using a slow cooker.
  • High heat first: Set the cooker to high for the first hour, especially when preparing meat or poultry. This ensures that you heat the food at a safe temperature right from the start.
  • Check the temperature: Meat needs to reach a minimum internal temperature to be safe to eat. Before serving, use a food thermometer to test the internal temperature of the meat. Safe temperatures are:
Minimum Safe Temperature
Beef (well done)
Beef (medium)
Beef (rare)

How to Handle Meat and Poultry

Take these precautions when preparing meat and poultry:

  • Frozen food: Defrost meat and poultry before putting it in the slow cooker. Never cook meat that hasn’t been defrosted. It will take too long to heat in the slow cooker and may not reach its safe internal temperature.
  • Size: Cut meat and poultry into moderately sized pieces. For example, never try to cook a whole chicken in a slow cooker.

Food Storage

Storing food safely is important before and after cooking.

  • Ingredients: Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time. Bacteria multiply rapidly at room temperature, which gives them a “head start” during the first hour of cooking, when the slow cooker is still just heating up.
  • Before cooking: Never put the crock in a refrigerator—this will cause it to heat up slower and allow bacteria to multiply. If you prepare ingredients the night before, store them in a different container. Always store meat and vegetables separately.
  • Leftovers: Don’t store leftovers or leave food to cool in the ceramic crock. The lingering warmth of the ceramic will make the food susceptible to bacteria.

If There’s a Power Outage

Because slow cookers run on electricity, a power outage will cause a loss of heat.

  • If a power outage occurs when you’re home: Move the food immediately to a traditional stove or bring the slow cooker to a house that has power.
  • If a power outage occurs when you aren’t at home: Discard the food and start over.

How to Test Your Slow Cooker for Safety

Test your slow cooker every few months to ensure that it’s heating to a safe temperature.

  1. Fill the crock with 2 quarts of room-temperature water.
  2. Heat on low for 8 hours.
  3. Check the water temperature with an instant-read food thermometer. Check the temperature quickly since it drops rapidly when the lid is removed.

The water should be 185°F. If the temperature is lower, the cooker may not heat food quickly enough or at a high enough temperature to be safe.

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