It doesn’t take a genius to know that keeping food at the correct temperature is important. But what exactly are the precise food temperatures for maintaining it prior to consumption? How much lee-way is there before food is branded inedible?
If you don’t store your food in the correct temperature, not only could it “go off”, but it could make you seriously ill. Fridges, freezers and pantries are all the main places for food storage, and it’s better to be in the know about how correctly to store your food. If you own a catering business or are planning on opening one, you better do your homework on food temperatures. Not abiding by the required food and safety standards set out by law is an offence and could see your business being shut down!
I’ll leave the top dogs at The Food Safety Standards Australia to explain what is meant by “high-risk” food:
“Potentially hazardous foods are foods that might contain food poisoning bacteria and are capable of supporting growth of these bacteria or formation of toxins to levels that are unsafe for consumers, if the foods are not stored at correct temperatures.”
Raw and cooked meats, dairy, eggs, seafood, processed fruit and vegetables, cooked rice and pasta, and poultry are branded “high-risk”. This means they should all be kept in a refrigerator BELOW 5 degrees celsius. Any warmer and your fridge won’t do what it’s meant to do; keep your food all tasty and cool!
Equally, it is vital to ensure all high-risk food is correctly transported, stored and displayed at the optimum temperature. Obviously, this isn’t the case when you are physically preparing your food as that would mean it would be pretty hard to cook! Imagine chopping your vegetables or dicing your meat in a room that was colder than 5°C. The word “impractical” springs to mind.
The Danger Zone
So we’ve established the temperature high-risk foods should be stored at, but what happens if the environment IS hotter? An environment between 5°C. and 60°C. is known as the “Danger Zone”(Sounds scary doesn’t it?). It’s basically a perfect place for bacteria to grow and multiply, and it just so happens that between 5°C. and 60°C. is a prime spot! Simply put, this is exactly where you don’t want to store your food. Salmonella, Sickness, Diarrhoea, and Food Poisoning are all caused by bacterial contamination. None of these sound like a walk in the park do they? If food is kept in the danger zone for 2 hours or longer it cannot be reheated. You must eat it there and then. If food is in the danger zone for more than four hours, then just get rid of it. It isn’t worth the risk.
Freezing Food Temperatures
When we freeze our food we are essentially freezing the water content so it lasts longer. Your freezer needs to be kept at -18°C for it to be a safe temperature for food. Some people believe that by freezing food you are actually killing the bacteria but this is definitely not the case. As soon as you take your food out of the freezer to defrost the bacteria will start growing back just as fast as it did before it was frozen!
Similarly, if you are reheating food that has been previously cooked or cooled, you need to ensure you aim to reheat it back up to 60°C. This is a healthy food temperature and will help reduce the chances of food poisoning.
Food not containing Bacteria
But not all food contains food poisoning bacteria. Some preserved foods do not contain growing bacteria; dried fruit, salted/fermented dried meats, yoghurts, hard cheeses, spreads, some sauces, dried pasta and some breads. Saying that, just because they aren’t hazardous doesn’t mean they don’t need to be correctly stored in the right food temperatures to stop them from going bad.
So even though the “Danger Zone” is between 5°C and 60°C, that doesn’t mean you can store food above 60°C and it will last forever. Bacteria and mould are just one factor that spoils food. Food contains enzymes. High heats can destroy enzymes but it can’t kill proteins and fats. So if you were thinking you could theoretically keep food forever in a safe high temperature and it would still be OK, just give up on the idea. Who wants food that isn’t fresh anyway?