Cooling Temperature Guidelines

Cooling Temperature Guidelines

Cooked food is generally safest if prepared just before service, instead of cooked in advance or cooled for service another day. Because many bacteria survive cooking temperatures, and recontamination can easily occur, slow cooling provides opportunities for bacteria to grow or produce toxins that cause foodborne illness. Therefore, cooling must happen quickly.

Cooling Requirements

Potentially hazardous foods pass through the danger zone (135°F-41°F) rapidly during cooling.

1. From 135°F to 70°F within 2 hours

2. From 70°F to 41°F (or 45°F*) within 4 hours

This cooling provision requires temperature monitoring.

Exceptions To The Rule

Two specific methods of cooling have no time monitoring required.

1. Shallow pan: Food must be two inches or less, uncovered, at 41°F or less

2. Size reduction of whole meats: Intact pieces of whole (not ground, injected or comminuted) meats may be cut into slices no thicker than four inches thick. To speed cooling, the meat pieces must be spaced so they are not touching other pieces.

Cooling Tips ƒ

  • Refrigerate, freeze, or put the food in ice immediately after removing from the heat source. ƒ
  • Allow for air circulation—do not overfill the refrigerator or stack cooling pans on top of each other. ƒ
  • Use a two inch pan to chill foods. ƒ
  • Use shallow containers to split foods into smaller portions. ƒ
  • Allow for air circulation. Rapidly chill uncovered foods chill faster. ƒ
  • If possible, substitute ice for water in the recipe. Adding ice at the end of the cooking process will help to cool the product. Remember to use a thermometer to check the temperature before placing into walk-in.
  • Use blast chillers when possible. ƒ
  • Make sure raw meat juices or contaminants can’t drip onto cooling foods. ƒ
  • Use a thermometer to make sure hot food cools: ƒ
    • From 135°F to 70°F within 2 hours ƒ
    • From 135°F to 41°F within 6 hours ƒ
  • Do not cover food in the cooling process


This article is an excerpt from the Handbook for Excellent Restaurant Operations (HERO), published by the Washington Hospitality Association.  Want a hard copy of the whole manual?  It’s one of the many benefits of becoming a member!  Find out more about joining the Washington Hospitality Association here.

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Categories: HERO