Continuing yesterdays lesson on the proper thawing of foods, I will now discuss the proper methods for cooling foods. The main process behind the proper cooling of cooked foods, is to get the temperature through the temperature danger zone as quickly as possible to minimize the chance of bacteria growing on the food.
I am sure many of us remember, and have done ourselves, the leaving of food out on the counter to cool before being placed in the refrigerator. This is mainly done, however incorrectly, to keep the temperature of the fridge from rising by placing hot or warm food inside. A refrigerator is the perfect place to keep cold food cold, but it is not very efficient at rapidly cooling foods.
As previously stated, the object of cooling foods, is to get the items through the temperature danger zone quickly enough to keep bacteria from growing to unsafe levels. According to the FDA, this can be done by cooling the items from above 135 degrees F (57C) down to 70 degrees F (21C) within the first two (2) hours, then cooling the item to below 41 degrees F (5C) in the next four (4) hours. As a side note, if the food cannot be cooled to 70 degrees within two (2) hours, it must either be discarded or reheated and cooled again.
To aid in getting the food items to cool properly within the allotted time periods, there are several ways to assist in reaching the desired goals. Some are designed for the food service industry, however others can easily be adapted for home use.
1. First, reduce the size of the food for quicker cooling. This can be done by dividing the items into smaller containers for faster cooling.
2. Place item in an ice water bath. As far as I know, everyone that boils eggs uses an ice water bath to rapidly cool the eggs after they are done cooking. The same principle applies to other items as well. For items that are liquid (or semi liquid) and can be stirred (frequently), placing the pan in an ice water bath in the sink and stirring will help speed up the cooling process of the item.
3. Stir food with an Ice Paddle. In some food service establishments, you can find a plastic paddle, that was filled with water and frozen. For large amounts of liquid items, the paddle can be used the cool the center portion of the item by stirring with the paddle. In a home, this can be accomplished by purchasing a smaller paddle, or simply using a plastic bottle filled with water and frozen and using it as a paddle to stir the food item.
4. Placing food in a blast or tumble chiller. This is mainly for food service operations, as these devices are not currently designed for home use. The object of this item is as it sounds, it is like a super powered fridge that will super cool food items very quickly.
5. Adding ice or cold water as an ingredient. This cooling technique works for liquid items that require more liquid to be added at the end of the cooking process. Instead of adding hot water (or even a hot broth), use very cold water or ice to speed the cooling process. If you add broth as a final ingredient, it is possible to chill the broth or freeze it into cubes just like you would regular water to speed the cooling process of the food item.
If you have any questions about anything that I present in these lessons, or have a question about anything regarding food safety, please feel free to contact me.
Tomorrows lesson: Proper reheating of previously cooked & properly cooled foods.