The Danger Zone: Following Food Safety Temperatures (2023)

In commercial foodservice, understanding food safety temperatures is crucial to protecting your guests from foodborne illness. All operators and food handlers are responsible for recognizing the importance of the temperature danger zone and should be educated to perform established food safety procedures. Keep reading to learn all about the food temperature danger zone, how long food can safely stay in the danger zone, and the food safe temperature range for hot and cold food.

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Click below to learn about the temperature danger zone:

  1. Why Is the Danger Zone Important?
  2. How Long Food Can Stay in the Danger Zone
  3. How to Hold Cold Food
  4. How to Hold Hot Food
  5. Safe Cooking Temperatures
  6. How to Rapidly Cool Hot Foods
  7. Cold Food Storage Times

What Is the Danger Zone?

The danger zone refers to the temperature range in which bacteria growth occurs most rapidly on food. According to ServSafe recommendations, food temperatures between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit represent this danger zone. Bacteria can multiply at any temperature within the danger zone, but temperatures between 70 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit provide the most hospitable environment for bacteria to thrive. The longer food sits in the temperature danger zone, the greater the risk that bacteria will grow on the food.

The Danger Zone: Following Food Safety Temperatures (1)

Why Is the Temperature Danger Zone Important?

When foods are allowed to enter the temperature danger zone, bacteria may grow to unhealthy levels and cause the food to spoil. Dangerous bacteria growth like this may occur without any visible signs that the food is unsafe for consumption. Foods may smell and appear normal, but could actually contain harmful amounts of bacteria that will cause foodborne illness.

This is what makes the temp danger zone extremely important. As a food service professional, it’s your responsibility to keep foods out of the danger zone by using approved methods to chill, heat, and store foods.

(Video) Your Essential Guide to the Temperature Danger Zone

What Is Time Temperature Abuse?

Time temperature abuse is the act of allowing foods to stay in the temperature danger zone of 41 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Along with cross-contamination, time temperature abuse is a common source of foodborne illness. Foods may become time-temperature abused in three ways:

  • Foods are not held or stored at food safe temperatures
  • Food is not cooked or reheated to the temperature required to eliminate possible pathogens
  • Hot food is not cooled properly before being placed in cold storage

What Are TCS Foods?

TCS stands for time/temperature control safety. Foods that require strict time and temperature control are considered TCS foods. Pathogens love TCS foods because they present an ideal environment for germs to grow and spread. Preventing TCS foods from entering the danger zone and becoming time-temperature abused is a critical food safety practice. These are the high-risk TCS foods that should be closely monitored at all times:

  • Milk and dairy products
  • Meat and poultry
  • Fish, shellfish, and crustaceans
  • Shell eggs
  • Baked potatoes
  • Cooked rice, beans, and vegetables
  • Tofu, soy protein, or other plant-based meat alternatives
  • Sprouts and sprout seeds
  • Cut tomatoes, melons, and leafy greens
  • Untreated garlic and oil mixtures

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How Long Can Food Stay in the Temperature Danger Zone?

ServSafe states that 4 hours is the maximum length of time ready-to-eat foods can stay in the temperature danger zone. After the 4 hour limit, foods must be thrown away. Within the 4 hour time limit, foods can be consumed, reheated, or chilled to bring them back to food safe temperatures. Checking temps every 2 hours allows for a greater window to perform any corrective actions that are necessary.

How to Keep Food Out of the Danger Zone

Kitchen thermometers are the key to keeping foods out of the temp danger zone. By monitoring and recording food temperatures regularly, you can prevent foods from becoming time-temperature abused. This is imperative while prepping, cooking, and holding food on your buffet line or salad bar.

Follow these important tips to ensure you’re making the best use of your kitchen thermometers to keep food safe for consumption.

  • Always use the right type of thermometer for the job.
  • Never rely on the temperature display of your equipment alone.
  • Place a thermometer inside your refrigerator or freezer as an additional safety measure.
  • Keep a written record of all temperature checks that includes the temp, the time, and the name of the operator.
  • Clean and calibrate thermometers often.

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Food Holding Temperature

Once your food is cooked to the proper internal temperature or chilled to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, it’s important to maintain these safe temperatures before serving. There are a number of instances in which foodservice professionals need to hold food for extended periods of times. These instances could include holding food in salad bars and buffet lines or transporting food to off-site locations and catering events.

(Video) The Food Safety Temperature Danger Zone

When transporting food, it is recommended you use a food pan carrier or insulated catering bag to ensure your hot or cold foods remain safe for consumption.

Cold Holding Temperature

The cold holding temperature for TCS foods must be at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Here are some tips to properly hold cold foods so they don't fall into the danger zone:

  • Ensure your cold-holding equipment keeps foods at 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below.
  • Any cold food held without refrigeration is safe for up to 6 hours, starting from the time it was removed from refrigeration at 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below.
  • Check the temperature of cold foods every 2 hours and discard any cold food that reaches a temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

How Cold Does a Salad Bar or Refrigerator Have to Be to Keep Food Safe?

Salad bars and refrigerators need to maintain temperatures at 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below to prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria. This is especially important as you house vulnerable TCS foods including cheese, yogurts, meats, salad dressings, and egg products.

Holding Temperature For Hot Food

The appropriate holding temp for hot foods is 135 degrees Fahrenheit or above. Here are some tips to keep hot foods out of the danger zone:

  • Never use hot holding equipment to reheat food. Foods should be heated to safe temperatures prior to holding. Hot holding equipment is designed to maintain current temps, not bring food up to temp.
  • When possible, keep food covered to help maintain temperatures and keep contaminants out.
  • Stir frequently to distribute heat throughout the food.
  • Use the appropriate thermometer to monitor food temperatures often.
  • Discard hot food that has been sitting below 135 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 4 hours.
  • Never mix freshly prepared food with foods already being held for service to prevent cross contamination.

How Often Should I Check the Temperature of Hot or Cold Holding Food?

It is recommended you check the temperature of your hot or cold holding food every four hours. However, if you check every 2 hours instead, this allows enough time to take corrective action in the event that food has fallen into the danger zone. By staying on top of your food’s internal temperatures, you can prevent the spread of dangerous bacteria and eliminate food waste by simply re-heating or re-chilling the affected foods before bacteria has time to spread.

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Safe Cooking Temperatures

The Danger Zone: Following Food Safety Temperatures (2)

To prevent the spread of salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, listeria, and other dangerous bacteria, it’s important to monitor the internal temperature of the foods you serve. Follow the recommendations below for safe cooking temperatures of common TCS foods.

(Video) Temperature Danger Zone - Food Safety

Cook to 165 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 seconds:

  • Poultry, whole or ground
  • Stuffing made with poultry, meat, or fish
  • Stuffed pasta, meat, poultry, or seafood
  • Any dish that contains a cooked TCS food

Cook to 155 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 seconds:

  • Ground beef, pork, or other meats
  • Flavor-injected meats
  • Tenderized meats
  • Ratites (ostrich, emu)
  • Ground, chopped, or minced seafood
  • Eggs from the shell, held for service

Cook to 145 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 seconds:

  • Seafood
  • Steaks and chops (beef, pork, veal, lamb)
  • Commercially raised game
  • Eggs from the shell, served immediately
  • Roasts of beef, pork, veal, lamb (must be cooked for at least 4 minutes)

Cook to 135 degrees Fahrenheit (no minimum time):

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Rice, pasta, and other grains
  • Legumes

Click below to print a visual reminder of the safe cooking temperatures listed above:

Printable Version

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What Do You Need to Know About Resting Time for Meats?

Before taking temperatures, it’s important to note the rest time of meat required when removing it from the grill, oven, or other heat source. During this time, the temperature will remain consistent or continue to rise. This process helps to destroy harmful germs.

(Video) Temperature Danger Zone!

How Do You Rapidly Cool Hot Foods?

Many institutions and large commercial kitchens prepare dishes ahead of time for maximum efficiency in their kitchen. The food is then cooled down and held until service. When doing this, it’s important to cool the food quickly and safely so that it doesn't linger in the danger zone for too long.

If you're preparing food ahead of time, you must bring the temperature down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below within 2 hours of hitting its proper internal temperature.

Tips for Cooling Hot Foods to Food Safe Temperatures

Placing hot food directly into your refrigerator or freezer is never recommended because it endangers the food around it by raising the ambient temperature in your fridge or freezer. This creates the possibility of other foods in your refrigerator or freezer entering the temperature danger zone and developing bacteria without you even knowing. Instead, follow these tips for quickly cooling your hot foods.

  • Use a commercial blast chiller to cool foods quickly and minimize the time food spends in the danger zone.
  • Store foods in shallow containers to allow the temperature to distribute more evenly.
  • Consider using a cooling paddle to reduce the temperature of hot liquids including soups, stews, and sauces.
  • Create an ice bath by filling a pot, container, or sink basin with ice. Containers of hot foods can be placed in the ice bath to quickly cool food to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

Learn more about bringing foods down to temperature in our cooling foods guide.

Cold Food Storage

In addition to holding and serving cold foods, it's important to know how long you can store cold foods before they become unsafe for consumption. Always date label your refrigerated foods and use a first-in, first-out (FIFO) system. Use this chart as a reminder of how long items can be safely kept before they must be discarded.

Food ItemRefrigerator (40°F)Freezer (0°F)
Bacon1 week1 month
Beverages3 weeks unopened, 7-10 days opened8-12 months
Cheese - hard (Swiss)3-4 weeks6 months
Cheese - soft (brie)1 week6 months
Chicken, egg, macaroni, and tuna salad3-4 daysDo not freeze
Cottage cheese1 weekDo not freeze
Dough - cookieUse by date2 months
Dough - tube cans of rolls, biscuits, pizza doughUse by dateDo not freeze
Egg substitutes - opened3 daysDo not freeze
Egg substitutes - unopened3 days1 year
Eggs - fresh in shell3-5 weeksDo not freeze
Eggs - hard cooked1 weekDo not freeze
Fish - fatty (salmon)1-2 days2-3 months
Fish - lean (cod)1-2 days6 months
Ground meats - raw1-2 days3-4 months
Ham - fully cooked, slices3-4 days1-2 months
Ham - fully cooked, whole1 week1-2 months
Hot dogs - opened1 week1-2 months
Hot dogs - unopened2 weeks1-2 months
Luncheon meats - opened3-5 days1-2 months
Luncheon meats - unopened2 weeks1-2 months
Margarine4-5 months12 months
Mayonnaise - opened2 monthsDo not freeze
Milk1 week3 months
Poultry - cooked3-4 days2-6 months
Poultry - fresh, chicken or turkey1-2 days6 months
Prepared leftovers3-4 days2-3 months
Sausage - raw1-2 days1-2 months
Sausage - cooked1 week1-2 months
Steaks, chops, and roasts - raw3-5 days4-6 months

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It's every food service operator's top priority to keep the food they're serving safe for consumption. Following these important tips and guidelines will ensure your managers and staff have the knowledge to keep food out of the danger zone, take corrective action, and keep customers safe from harmful foods.


What is the Danger Zone for food temps? ›

The temperature range in which disease causing bacteria grow best in TCS food is called the temperature danger zone. The temperature danger zone is between 41°F and 135°F. TCS food must pass through the temperature danger zone as quickly as possible. Keep hot food hot and cold food cold.

What is the 40 140 4 rule? ›

Basically it goes like this: if you remove food from a 40*F fridge, the surface of whole muscle meats should be raised to 140*F or above within 4 hours.

Is when food is exposed at temperature Danger Zone for more than 4 hours? ›

Temperature danger zone: 41 to 135 degrees F. The longer food is in the temperature danger zone, the more time pathogens have to grow. The goal is to reduce the amount of time TCS food spends in the temperature danger zone. If food is held in this range for four or more hours, you must throw it out.

How long can you hold food at 140 degrees? ›

The USDA did issue an advisory that “A minimum temperature of 135 degrees for a maximum of 8 hours, or a minimum temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit indefinitely also would be adequate to ensure food safety.”

Will food spoil at 45 degrees? ›

If the fridge is still at or below 40 °F, or the food has been above 40 °F for only 2 hours or less, it should be safe to eat.

Which hot held food is in the temperature danger zone quizlet? ›

The FDA Food Code requires that all hot foods be maintained at 135 °F or above. When temperatures of food fall below 135 °F, they are in the temperature danger zone—temperatures at which bacteria grow rapidly. Hold hot foods at 135 °F or above.

Why do you have to follow the basic rule 4 40 140? ›

Leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause bacteria (such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter) to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness.

What happens to the 2 hour food safety rule temperatures above 90 degrees F? ›

Refrigerate perishable food (meat, seafood, dairy, cut fruit, some vegetables, and cooked leftovers) within 2 hours. If the food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F, like a hot car or picnic, refrigerate it within 1 hour.

When high risk food has been in the temperature danger zone for two hours it should not be cooked or eaten within the next two hours and thrown out? ›

If high-risk foods have been left in the temperature danger zone for up to 2 hours the food should be reheated, refrigerated or consumed. If high-risk foods have been left in the temperature danger zone for longer than 2 hours, but less than 4 hours, they should be consumed immediately.

How long can food stay good at 55 degrees? ›

55 to 85 degrees F (Dangerous): Food can become dangerous in several hours. 85 to 115 degrees F (Very Dangerous): Food could become dangerous in as little as a couple hours if other factors (mentioned previously) are ideal for bacterial growth.

What temperature can food be left? ›

The key for food safety is to keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Your goal is to lower the time that food is in the "danger zone." That means between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius and 60 degrees Celsius).

How long can food be left out at 50 degrees? ›

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends abiding by the "2-Hour Rule" The "2-hour rule" states that perishables left at room temperature for more than two hours should be discarded.

Which food is delivered and received in the temperature danger zone? ›

Foods that are potentially hazardous inside the danger zone: Meat: beef, poultry, pork, seafood. Eggs and other protein-rich foods. Dairy products.

What is the maximum safe temperature for hot holding food? ›

Hot food must be kept at 63°C or above, except for certain exceptions. When you display hot food, e.g. on a buffet, you should use suitable hot holding equipment to keep it above 63°C. If this is not possible, you can take food out of hot holding to display it for up to two hours, but you can only do this once.

What is the temperature of hot holding zone danger zone and cold holding zone? ›

Food Safety Temperature Chart
Temperature Danger Zone40°F – 140°F (4.5°C – 60°C)
Holding Hot Foods140°F (60°C) or higher
Holding Cold Foodsless than 41°F (5°C)
Fridge Temperature40°F (4.5°C) or colder
Freezer Temperature0°F (-18°C) to -10°F (-23°C)

What is the safe zone for fridge? ›

Keep your appliances at the proper temperatures.

Keep the refrigerator temperature at or below 40° F (4° C). The freezer temperature should be 0° F (-18° C). Check temperatures periodically. Appliance thermometers are the best way of knowing these temperatures and are generally inexpensive.

What temperature is hot holding? ›

Hot holding food

Maintain hot food at 135°F or above. Properly cooked roasts may be held at 130°F or above.

What does 4 4 140 means? ›

To minimize the growth of bacteria and other organisms that can cause food spoilage or food-borne illness, remember the basic formula 4-40-140: Perishable foods should spend no more than 4 hours at temperature between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

How long can food be left out at 80 degrees? ›

If it's below 90 degrees, discard any food after two hours. Bacteria multiply most rapidly at temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees, and can reach dangerous levels. So, smart practices for storing and cooking your food are extremely important.

What is the 2 hour 4 hour rule food safety? ›

Food held between 5oC and 60oC for less than 2 hours can be used, sold or put back in the refrigerator to use later. Food held between 5oC and 60oC for 2-4 hours can still be used or sold, but can't be put back in the fridge. Food held between 5oC and 60oC for 4 hours or more must be thrown away.

How must the 2 hour 4 hour rule be applied when cooling food? ›

If the total time is: • Less than 2 hours, the food can be used or put back in the refrigerator for later use, Between 2 and 4 hours, the food can still be used, but can't be put back in the refrigerator, and • 4 hours or longer, the food must be thrown out.

When cooling food The temperature must move through the danger zone within how many hours? ›

TCS food must be cooled from 135°F to 70°F within 2 hours and completely cooled to 41°F or below within 6 hours. TCS food prepared from ingredients at room temperature must be cooled to 41°F or below within 4 hours.

What happens when you leave food in the danger zone for over 2 hours? ›

Leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause bacteria (such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter) to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness.

Will 170 degrees keep food warm? ›

Some ovens actually will have a "warm" setting, which is usually 170 to 200 F, or a warming drawer, which is meant to keep foods at a level, warm temperature. If your oven has neither, set it to 200 to 250 F.

What is the 2 4 hour rule? ›

If the total time is: • Less than 2 hours, the food can be used or put back in the refrigerator for later use, • Between 2 and 4 hours, the food can still be used, but can't be put back in the refrigerator, and • 4 hours or longer, the food must be thrown out.

Do you reheat food to 165 before hot holding it? ›

The State Sanitary Code now requires that the entire mass of all cooked and refrigerated potentially hazardous food which is to be reheated must be reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit or above within two hours, and held above 140 degrees Fahrenheit until served.

Is 200 degrees good to keep food warm? ›

If you're preparing several foods that get "done" at different times, you often can successfully hold most hot foods for about 15 to 20 minutes in a preheated oven set to 200 to 250°F. For longer than this, check frequently with a food thermometer, to assure the food is remaining at a temperatures of 140°F or above.

Can meat sit out for 3 hours? ›

If a perishable food (such as meat or poultry) has been left out at room temperature overnight (more than two hours) it may not be safe. Discard it, even though it may look and smell good. Never taste a food to see if it is spoiled. Use a food thermometer to verify temperatures.

How long can meat go unrefrigerated? ›

TWO HOURS is the MAXIMUM time perishable foods should be at room temperature (ONE HOUR at temperatures 90 degrees F and higher). This INCLUDES the time they're on the table during your meal. Just ONE bacterium, doubling every 20 minutes, can grow to over 2,097,152 bacteria in 7 hours!

How long can a buffet be left out? ›

Remember the 2-Hour Rule: Discard any perishables left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, unless you're keeping it hot or cold. If the buffet is held in a place where the temperature is above 90 °F, the safe holding time is reduced to 1 hour.


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