Are Slow Cookers Safe?
Wondering how safe slow cookers really are? Curious how long food can stay warm in your crockpot? We cover ALL your slow cooker safety questions below.
Are slow cookers safe?
Yes. According to the USDA slow cookers are a safe process for cooking foods. Crockpots cook food at safe temperatures generally between 170° and 280°F.
Slow cookers are also safe for countertop cooking and can be left unattended for extended periods of time. Keep in mind, you will want to take the same precautions when using a slow cooker as you do with any other appliance.
Can I use frozen meat in the slow cooker?
No. You need to always defrost meat and vegetables before placing into a slow cooker.
Does a slow cooker get hot enough to kill bacteria?
Yes. The low direct heat from the slow cooker and the steam created in the tightly-covered container combine to destroy bacteria. Remember, you must completely thaw food prior to using the slow cooker to ensure it cooks all the way through to a safe internal temperature.
Remember to keep all perishable foods refrigerated until you are ready to prep. Slow cookers can take several hours to reach a temperature that kills bacteria. So refrigerating your food helps to make sure that bacteria doesn’t grow.
What if there is a power outage while using a slow cooker?
It depends. Any food that sits between the temperatures of 40° and 140°F can harbor bacteria that causes food poisoning.
If you were gone all day and came home to the power outage or your slow cooker is turned off, then to be safe you need to throw away the food even if it looks done.
If you are at home when the power goes out, you could finish cooking the meal immediately on a gas stove or even on an outdoor grill.
If your food was already finished cooking before the power went out, then it should remain safe for up to 2 hours in the pot even with the power off.
Is it safe to use an old crockpot?
It depends. If your appliance is really old — with a fabric cord or an attached base — or damaged in any way, then you should buy a new slow cooker.
Keep in mind, newer slow cookers often heat up more quickly than older ones. So, if you are using the LOW setting on an older crockpot, consider the USDA’s suggestion to cook your food on HIGH for the first hour to protect against food poisoning.
Do slow cookers cause fires?
Not often. The leading cause of home fires in the States is cooking, but according to the National Fire Protection Association, slow cookers are not to blame:
“Slow cookers are a statistically insignificant factor in the home cooking fire equation and can be used safely.”
Remember, you always want to follow your manufacturers' instructions regarding proper use.
Is it safe to cook beans in a slow cooker?
Yes. But read about how to cook beans in a slow cooker to learn why kidney beans can be toxic.
can I test my slow cooker?
Yes. Does your slow cooker temperature seem off? Wondering how to tell if your crockpot is working? Simple. Fill your pot 2/3 full with water, set it to LOW, then check the water temperature after eight hours. A food thermometer should register 185°F or higher. If it reads less than that, consider a new appliance.
Many new slow cookers also include a “simmer” setting. When food simmers, it is cooking just below the boiling point, or right around 209 degrees. On the LOW setting, it generally takes around 7-8 hours for food to reach a simmer. On HIGH, it will take around 3-4 hours. If you set the pot to SIMMER, it should reach this point more quickly.
Can I put another dish inside my slow cooker?
Yes. Do you want to make a smaller recipe in your larger slow cooker? Oven-safe baking dishes can be placed into a slow cooker. Fill the smaller dish 2/3 to 3/4 full — just like usual slow cooker recommendations. Then put the baking dish inside the slow cooker, cover with the lid, and cook as directed — adjusting the cooking time as needed.
Remember this technique when you only need to bake a couple of stuffed bell peppers!
How long can I leave a crockpot on Warm?
Most new slow cookers have a “keep warm” setting. This feature comes in handy when you aren’t precisely sure what time you will be sitting down to eat dinner. After cooking your food on LOW or HIGH, the slow cooker will switch to the WARM mode to keep your food at a safe temperature — at least 140 °F — until you're ready to eat.
But remember, WARM is only for keeping already cooked food at the perfect serving temperature until you are ready to eat. It is not recommend to use the warm setting for more than 4 hours.
Can I reheat food in a slow cooker?
No. Reheating leftovers in a slow cooker is not recommended. Cooked food should be reheated on the stove, in a microwave, or in a regular oven until the food reaches 165°F. Then you can place the hot food in a preheated slow cooker to keep it hot for serving.
Where can I learn more about food safety?
Remember: "If in doubt, throw it out." Food poisoning is a serious issue — it's particularly dangerous to pregnant women, older adults, children, or people with compromised immune systems. Visit FoodSafety.gov to help determine when food is safe or not to consume.
Need slow cooker inspiration? See the collection of 6-8+ hour longer-cooking slow cooker dinner recipes.