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24/09/18: Slow cooker meals require proper food safety

5b9c98f250977.imageChili, stew, pot roast — makes my mouth water to think of all those wonderful dishes. Walking into your home after a long day at the office and smelling the wonderful aroma of a home cooked meal can be a great feeling, especially knowing that you’ll have little prep work to complete before putting the meal on the table.

Though slow cookers are wonderfully useful at any time of the year, fall is the perfect time when a slow cooker can make life a little less hectic. By planning ahead, you save time later. With school back in session, we are all looking for an easy meal for dinner time.

The direct heat from the pot, lengthy cooking time and steam created within the tightly covered container combine to destroy bacteria and make the slow cooker a safe process for cooking foods.

Slow cookers generally use less electricity than an oven. In addition, the low heat helps less expensive, leaner cuts of meat become tender and shrink less.

Be sure and start with a clean cooker, clean utensils and a clean work area. Perishable items should be kept refrigerated until ready to use.

Foods should be cut into chunks or small pieces to ensure thorough cooking. If you cut up meat and vegetables in advance, store them separately in the refrigerator. Also, it’s not a good idea to use the slow cooker for large pieces of meat such as a roast or whole chicken because the food will cook so slowly it could remain in the “danger zone” too long.

Keep in mind that foods take different times to cook, depending on the setting used. If possible, turn the cooker to the highest setting for the first hour, and then adjust to a lower setting for the remainder of the cooking time.

It is safe to cook foods on low the entire time. This is handy for those who may need to start the cooking process as they leave for work.

It’s not recommended to use a slow cooker to reheat leftovers. However, cooked food can be brought to steaming on the stovetop or oven, then put into a preheated slow cooker to keep hot for serving.

To check your slow cooker’s ability to reach and maintain a safe temperature to kill bacteria, fill it two-thirds full with water. Cover the cooker and turn the temperature setting on high. Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the water two hours later. If the temperature is 160 Fahrenheit or higher, the cooker is safe to use.