Controlling temperature

Temperature control is an essential part of food safety

Temperature affects the safety and shelf life of food. Some of the bacteria, viruses and other microbes contained in food may cause food poisoning. Their populations in food can be managed through temperature control.

Temperature can be controlled both through the course of action selected and with equipment. Good temperature control always involves monitoring temperature. Further information on temperature monitoring in the own-check system is available here.

Why are limits imposed on food temperatures?

Many food poisoning bacteria reproduce the fastest in the temperature range between room temperature and human body temperature (+20 to +40° Celsius). As many food poisoning bacteria reproduce readily outside this range, the hazardous temperature range for food is generally considered to be between +6 to +60° Celsius.

Depending on the type of food, stricter temperature limits may be in place on activities such as cold storage. On this page, you can find examples of the storage and transport temperatures of cold stored foods.

Cooling and cold storage of foods

The purpose of rapid cooling of foods prepared by heating and the cold storage of easily perishable foods, for example, is to maintain the temperature of food below the hazardous range. Rapid cooling and cold storage prevent or slow down the reproduction of bacteria in the food. For this reason, they also help prevent food poisoning.

Things to remember:

  • Check the temperature of cold stored foods with a thermometer when receiving the foods Do not accept products that are clearly warmer than the safe limit.
  • Be sure to maintain the cold chain in your operations. Do not delay moving foods that require cold storage to a refrigerator or other cold storage or refrigeration appliance. Do not take foods out of cold storage to wait for handling in advance if this is not an essential part of the preparation process. Do not overstock refrigeration appliances as this may cause the appliance to fail to keep all products cold.
  • If you do not immediately serve a food that has been prepared by a process that involves heating, cool it as quickly as possible. If you cool foods regularly, ensure that you have the necessary equipment, such as a cooling cabinet. You must also ensure that cooling takes place sufficiently rapidly, in other words from +60°C to +6°C in up to four hours. To check this, you must monitor the functionality of your cooling appliance or method. Be sure to move all cooled foods to a refrigerator or other cold storage or appliance as quickly as possible after cooling.
  • Monitor the functionality of refrigeration appliances and the serving temperature of cold foods. Are the appliances functioning at a correct temperature? Are there temperature differences between different points in the appliance? Ensure that the temperatures of foods to be stored cold are below the hazardous range (below +6 degrees Celsius) or colder if required by law. The temperature of easily perishable foods should not exceed 12 degrees Celsius even during serving.

Heating food and serving hot food

Proper heating kills off bacteria, viruses and other microbes contained in food. For this reason, the heating temperature can have a significant role in food safety. Safe food preparation requires that the temperature inside the food must be heated above +70 °C and, in poultry meat, above +75 °C.

It is also important that food served at a pick-up counter, for example, is kept hot at all times. For this purpose, it is recommended that the proper equipment is used. Temperatures within the hazardous range must be avoided, as this causes bacteria to reproduce rapidly.

Things to remember:

  • Remember proper heating! Be particularly careful when heating poultry and pork meat and products prepared from minced or sliced meat. Use a thermometer to ensure a sufficient heating temperature.
  • Beef patties should be heated thoroughly and are not recommended to be served medium cooked.
  • Check the temperatures of foods kept on display. Ensure that the temperatures of foods that are served hot are above the hazardous range (over 60 degrees Celsius). The temperature may not fall below 57 degrees Celsius even for short periods of time.
  • Monitor your equipment for any malfunctions.

Freezing and thawing foods

Foods can be frozen or deep-frozen to extend their shelf life. Once the temperature drops sufficiently low, the reproduction and activity of spoilage and disease-carrying microbes stops or slows down. However, freezing and deep-freezing do not kill off all bacteria or viruses from food, nor do they prevent fats from becoming rancid, for example.

The speed with which food is frozen or deep-frozen affects its quality. The structure of food changes when it is deep-frozen, and particularly when frozen, as this is the slower of the two processes. For this reason, the growth of bacteria can accelerate when the food is thawed.

Deep-frozen and frozen foods should not be thawed until this is necessary for consumption or use in food preparation. As a rule, thawed or melted foods should not be refrozen or deep-frozen. The temperature of deep-frozen foods should be maintained at -18°C, but temporary increases up to -15°C are permitted. The temperature limits of frozen foods are less strict. For more information on the temperatures of deep-frozen and frozen foods, see this page.

Things to remember:

  • Do not freeze or deep-freeze outdated foods or foods of a poor quality!
  • Do not freeze foods in a household freezer that is already fully stocked, for example, as this causes the rate of freezing to slow down. When freezing, ensure that the cold air comes into contact with the food from as many sides as possible.
  • Remember the cold chain! Do not allow food to be melted before it is intended to be used.
  • Do not thaw foods in room temperature. The safest place for thawing is a cold space.

See this page for frequently asked questions on temperatures.