The Danger Zone: Following Food Safety Temperatures

Food Safety

Food safety is paramount to any commercial restaurant operation. Failing to follow heating and cooling protocols can result in serious foodborne illness that will not only sicken customers, but land you in trouble with your local health department. You can help to avoid these health hazards by paying close attention to the food temperature "Danger Zone." The danger zone refers to food temperatures between 41 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, with the most rapid bacteria growth occurring between 70 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit. The more time food sits in this temperature range, the more opportunity there is for bacteria to grow to unsafe levels, causing food to spoil and become dangerous for consumption. You can avoid this dilemma by ensuring that food is quickly chilled or heated and held at safe temperatures. When cooling, blast chilling food to temperatures below 41 degrees is the best way to ensure that food does not sit in the "danger zone" for long. For hot entrees, operators must make sure that food temperatures stay above 141 degrees.


Temperature Guidelines for Meat

Certain temperature precautions must be taken with perishable foods such as meat. Be sure that meat, poultry, seafood, and other cooked foods have reached a safe internal temperature prior to serving. Sometimes, the recommended temperature for these products even exceeds the "danger zone" max temp of 135 degrees. It's important to note that you can't tell if meat has been safely cooked simply by looking at it - it must be measured with a meat probe thermometer.

When Heating and Removing Meat: Be sure to follow rest time guidelines when removing meat from a grill, oven, or other heat source. During this time, the temperature will remain consistent or continue to rise helping to destroy harmful germs. Use a food thermometer to ensure that foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature.

When Chilling: Your refrigerator should be set below 41 degrees to properly refrigerate foods. Germs can grow in many foods within 2 hours unless you refrigerate them. During the summer heat, cut that time down to 1 hour.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) recommends the following meat and poultry temperatures to ensure food safety:

Category Food Temperature Rest Time
Ground Meat and Meat Mixtures Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb 160° None
Turkey, Chicken 165° None
Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb Steak roasts, chops 145° 3 minutes
Poultry Chicken & Turkey, whole 165° None
Poultry breasts, roasts 165° None
Poultry thighs, legs, wings 165° None
Duck & Goose 165° None
Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird) 165° None
Pork and Ham Fresh pork 145° 3 minutes
Fresh ham (raw) 145° 3 minutes
Precooked ham (to reheat) 140° None
Eggs and Egg Dishes Eggs Cook until yolk and, white are firm None
Egg Dishes 160° None
Leftovers & Casseroles Leftovers 165° None
Casseroles 165° None
Seafood Fin Fish 145°, or cook until flesh is opaque (no longer transparent) and easily separates with a fork None
Shrimp, lobster, and crabs Cook until flesh is pearly and opaque None
Clams, oysters, and mussels Cook until shells open during cooking. None
Scallops Cook until flesh is milky white or opaque and firm None


Tips for Cooling:

  • Use a commercial blast chiller to minimize time that food is in the danger zone
  • Be sure your commercial refrigerator is consistently set below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a refrigerator / freezer thermometer to easily monitor
  • When storing, use shallow containers to distribute temperature more evenly
  • When measuring food temperatures, use a commercial grade probe thermometer
  • Cooling paddles can be filled with water, frozen, and then used to reduce the temperature of hot liquids like soups, stews, and sauces, or laid on top of warm casseroles to quickly bring foods below the danger zone before freezing
  • Create a simple ice bath by filling a pot, container, or sink basin with ice. Containers of hot foods can be placed in an ice bath to get the temperature below 41 degrees prior to freezing


Tips for Heating:


Related Resources:

How to Prevent Cross-Contamination

Food Allergy Overview