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What is the temperature danger zone?

 

Below 5oC, food poisoning bacteria are not able to multiply to dangerous levels; and above 60oC, the high temperatures kill bacteria and viruses. The temperature danger zone is the temperature range between 5oC and 60oC where harmful food bacteria and pathogens can grow rapidly. It is an important principle of food safety that food not be stored at temperatures within the temperature danger zone.

Some foods provide more suitable environments for the growth of bacteria and are therefore more susceptible to becoming hazardous. Types of foods classified as higher risk include:

  • cooked meats and food containing meat such as sliced deli meats, smoked meats, poultry and fish, pate, casseroles, curries, lasagne and meat pies;
  • dairy products and foods including milk, cream, custard, baked goods containing dairy products, soft cheeses and dairy based desserts;
  • seafood (excluding live seafood) and prepared food containing seafood;
  • prepared fruits and vegetables such as prepared salads, cooked vegetables, cut melons, sprouted seeds and ready to eat fruit packs;
  • cooked rice, pasta and fresh pasta;
  • cooked or processed food containing eggs, beans or pulses or other high protein ingredients including soya bean products
  • gravies and sauces;
  • vegetables, garlic or fresh herbs in oil where a food acid does not appear on the ingredient list;
  • foods containing any of the above such as sandwiches and salads.

 

Avoiding the temperature danger zone

Cold food should be kept cold by storing it in a refrigerator which should be set between 2oC and 4oC. The refrigerator should not be overloaded as air will not be able to circulate freely around the food.

Hot food should be kept and served at 60oC or hotter. If it is to be kept hot on a cooktop or bain-marie the unit needs to be hot enough to ensure that the food is kept above 60oC. If cooked food needs to be stored before serving it should be cooled until steam stops rising and placed in the refrigerator for storage until it is ready to be reheated for service.

The 2 hour / 4 hour guide

Although potentially hazardous food should be kept at 5oC or colder, or 60oC or hotter wherever possible, food can be safely held in the temperature danger zone for less than four hours. This is because it takes more than four hours for food-poisoning bacteria to grow to dangerous levels.

The 2 hour/4 hour guide applies to ready-to-eat potentially hazardous food. It provides guidance on how long this type of food can be held safely at temperatures between 5oC and 60oC, and what should happen to it after certain times. The times refer to the life of the food, including preparation and cooling, not just to display times, so remember to add up the total time that the food has been between 5oC and 60oC.

Total time between 5oC and 60oC What to do
Less than 2 hours Refrigerate or use immediately
Between 2 hours and less than 4 hours Use immediately
More than 4 hours Throw out

 

 

Six key tips for food safety

  • keep hot food steaming hot
  • keep cold food refrigerated
  • cook food properly and thoroughly
  • separate raw and cooked foods
  • keep kitchen and utensils clean
  • wash hands often with soap and dry thoroughly with a clean towel.

 

If you would like to know more about the temperature danger zone and safe food handling the Australian Online College has two (2) courses available. Why not enrol in a safe food handling certificate course now? 

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This page is about the temperature danger zone, food safety and food safe handling.

 
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