When you cook food that will not be served immediately – for example, when food handlers partially prep dishes early to save time when they’re ordered – it’s important to get the food out of the temperature danger zone quickly.

The temperature danger zone is the range between 41˚F and 135˚F (5˚C and 57˚C). Harmful bacteria grow well in that zone. And within that zone, bacteria grow even faster between 125˚F and 70˚F (52˚C and 21˚C). Food must pass through this temperature range quickly to reduce this growth.

The general rule: Foods that need time and temperature control for safety (TCS food, for short) must be cooled from 135˚F (57˚C) to 41˚F (5˚C) or lower within six hours.

Follow these guidelines:

First, cool food from 135˚F to 70˚F (57˚C to 21˚C) within two hours.
 Then cool it from 70˚F to 41˚F (21˚C to 5˚C) or
lower in the next four hours.

If the food hasn’t reached 70˚F (21˚C) within two hours, it must be reheated and then cooled again. If you can cool the food from 135˚F (57˚C) to 70˚F (21˚C) in less than two hours, you can use the remaining time to cool it to 41˚F (5˚C) or lower. However, the total cooling time cannot be longer than six hours.

Always be sure to check and comply with your local regulatory requirements. To learn about the Association’s ServSafe food safety training programs, visit servsafe.com.