Slow Cooker or Crockpot Safety
You can come home after a day at work and be greeted by the wonderful smells of home cooked food by using a slow cooker which is better known by the name crockpot. This is an economical appliance to use. It takes less electricity than an oven and during the summer it wont add heat to your kitchen like the oven would.
The slow cooker cooks foods slowly at a low temperature generally between 170 and 280 degrees. The low heat helps less expensive, leaner cuts of meat become tender and shrink less. The direct heat from the pot, lengthy cooking and steam created within the tightly-covered container combines to destroy bacteria and make the slow cooker a safe process for cooking foods.
Handling your food properly in the beginning will ensure a safe meal. Begin with a clean cooker, clean utensils and a clean work area. Wash your hands before and during food preparation. Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time. If you cut up meat and vegetables in advance, store them separately in the refrigerator. The slow cooker may take several hours to reach a safe, bacteria killing temperature. Constant refrigeration assures that bacteria, which multiply rapidly at room temperature, wont get a "head start" during the first few hours of cooking.
Always defrost meat or poultry completely before putting it into a slow cooker. Choose to make foods with a high moisture content such as chili, soup, stew or spaghetti sauce.
Cut food into chunks or smaller pieces to ensure thorough cooking.
Fill a cooker no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full. Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry in a slow cooker so if using them, put vegetables in first, at the bottom and around the sides of the utensil. Then add meat and cover the food with liquid such as broth, water or barbecue sauce. Keep the lid in place. Remove it only to stir the food or check for doneness.
Most cookers have two or more settings. Foods take different times to cook depending upon the setting used. Certainly, foods will cook faster on high than on low. However, for all-day cooking or for less-tender cuts, you may want to use the low setting.
If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe. However, it is safe to cook foods on low the entire time.
While food is cooking and once its done, food will stay safe as long as the cooker is operating.
If you are not at home during the entire cooking process and the power goes out, throw away the food even if it looks done.
Store leftovers in shallow covered containers and refrigerate within two hours after cooking is finished. Reheating leftovers in the slow cooker is not recommended. However, cooked food can be brought to steaming on the stove or in a microwave and then put into a preheated slow cooker to keep hot for serving.
Source: FSIS Bulletin