How to cool food properly

Why is it important to cool your food properly?

Improper cooling of potentially hazardous food is known to be a leading cause of foodborne illness. Food that cools slowly will stay in the Temperature Danger Zone for too long.

When this happens harmful bacteria can quickly multiply and make you sick when you eat the food.

A person pouring a pot of sauce into shallow containers to cool.

What should you do?

Food should be cooled quickly. The proper cooling method follows a 2 hour/4 hour rule and happens in two steps:

  1. Food is to be cooled from 60°C (140°F) to 20°C (68°F) within 2 hours.
  2. Then, food is to be cooled from 20°C (68°F) to 4°C (40°F) or colder within 4 hours.
    * Important: This process is done in the refrigerator.

Methods for Cooling Food

Cooling time and the method used depends on the type of food. Thicker foods and larger amounts of food will take longer to cool than smaller amounts of food. Also, certain ways of cooling may work better with liquid or solid foods. You can cool food by using one or more of the following methods:

  • Portion food into smaller amounts and refrigerate.
  • Cut big pieces of meat into smaller pieces.
  • Transfer liquids into shallows pans.
  • Do not fully cover pans during cooling. Leaving a portion of the pan opened will allow heat to escape and cool the food faster.
  • Do not stack pans. Air must be able to circulate around the food containers.
  • Place the container of food in an ice-water bath and stir the food. Stirring allows warm air to escape and cool food faster.
  • Use chilling equipment if available, such as an ice wand or blast chiller.