Preparing food is an incredibly delicate process, which makes it surprising that many still take it for granted. Food’s vulnerability to contamination is already high, though risks can exponentially multiply if you take a single concept into account: that of the ‘temperature danger zone’. The danger zone is a legitimate concern in the culinary field, so much that it’s taught in My Food Safety’s food handling training courses.
What’s this Danger Zone?
There’s a specific range of temperature where food is most vulnerable to harmful bacterial growth. This is the touted ‘danger zone’, which spans 5-60 degrees Celsius. It’s extremely easy for bacteria to grow in food within the danger zone, which is why cooking and frozen storage are the only two points in time when food is technically safest.
Why the Danger Zone, Per Se?
Bacteria are extremely prolific in terms of reproduction. A single bacterium can spawn trillions of its mates in just 24 hours, since bacteria double in number every twenty minutes under the right conditions. The temperature range within the danger possesses these “right conditions” for bacteria to thrive: ample food, moisture, oxygen and temperature. In other words, foods can literally be too hot or too cold for bacteria to survive.
Traversing the Danger Zone
Food hygienists say that the fridge should be kept below 5 degrees Celsius to make sure the environment is too cold for bacteria to pose a real threat. When storing food in the fridge, items should not be too closely stacked for better air circulation.
When it comes to freshly cooked food, their temperatures must be brought down as fast as possible. As soon as steaming stops, experts recommend that food be divided into small portions and placed inside the fridge. Hot food should also be kept and served hot, ideally at 60 degrees or hotter. Lastly, there’s the two-hour/four-hour rule, which details what should be done with food right after cooking. For the first two hours, food must be consumed immediately or kept outside the 5-60 degree range. Within 2-4 hours, it must be consumed immediately. Should more than 4 hours pass, the food must be thrown away.