Slow Cookers

There is nothing like coming home after a long day at work and finding your home cooked dinner already done for you, and not by your spouse.  And it’s all thanks to your slow cooker. 

Slow cookers are not just used during the wintertime any more, but all year long.  They give off less heat than an oven on a hot day and they use less electricity.  But most of all, they are a convenient way to cook a hot meal for those with busy schedules.

Is a Slow Cooker Safe?

Yes.  Slow cookers cook foods slowly at a low temperature, generally 170F and 280F. The low heat helps less expensive, leaner cuts of meat become tender and shrink less.
cooker.png image on bigy.com
The direct heat from the pot, lengthy cooking and steam created within the tightly-covered container combine to destroy bacteria and make the slow cooker a safe process for cooking foods.

Safe Beginnings

Begin with a clean cooker, clean utensils and a clean work area. Wash hands before and during food preparation.

Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time. If you cut up meat and vegetables in advance, store them separately in the refrigerator.  The slow cooker may take several hours to reach a safe, bacteria-killing temperature.  Constant refrigeration assures that bacteria, which multiply rapidly at room temperature, won’t get a “head start” during the first few hours of cooking.

Thaw Ingredients

Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker.  Choose to make foods with a high moisture content such as chili, soup, stew or spaghetti sauce.  If using a commercially frozen slow cooker meal, prepare according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Use the Right Amount of Food

Fill cooker no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full.  Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry in a slow cooker so if using them, put the vegetables in first.  Then add the meat and desired amount of liquid such as broth, water or barbecue sauce.  Keep the lid in place, removing only to stir the food or check for doneness.

Settings

Most cookers have two or more settings.  Foods take different times to cook depending upon the setting used. Certainly, foods will cook faster on high than on low.  However, for all-day cooking or for less-tender cuts, you may want to use the low setting.

If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe.  However, it’s safe to cook foods on low the entire time, if you’re leaving for work, for example, and preparation time is limited.

While food is cooking and once it’s done, food will stay safe as long as the cooker is operating.

Power Out

If you are not home during the entire slow-cooking process and the power goes out, throw away the food even if it looks done.

If you are at home, finish cooking the ingredients immediately by some other means.  When you are at home, and if the food was completely cooked before the power went out, the food should remain safe up to two hours in the cooker with the power off.

Handling Leftovers

Store leftovers in shallow covered containers and refrigerate within two hours after cooking is finished.  Reheating leftovers in a slow cooker is not recommended.  Cooked food should be reheated on the stove, in a microwave, or in a conventional oven until it reaches 165F.  Then the hot food can be placed in a reheated slow cooker to keep it hot for serving – at least 140F as measured with a food thermometer.