How to keep hot foods hot and fresh

Keeping hot foods hot is very important to ensure food safety and presents challenges. Bacterial growth slows down once at temperatures hotter than 60°C, so hot foods that are being served on a buffet, for example, must be kept hotter than that at all times.

Keep in mind that 60°C doesn’t kill bacteria — it only stops them from multiplying. If you actually want to kill bacteria, you’ve got to heat them up to at least 74°C. The same rule applies to cooked food that should happen to drop below 60°C — you get an hour, total. After that, you either need to heat it up to 74°C again or throw it away. And by the way, you can only reheat it once. If it drops below 60°C a second time, you need to toss it.

No time wait!

Time works hand in hand with temperature in encouraging the growth of bacteria. Let’s say you buy a package of uncooked chicken breasts. Maybe it’s in your shopping cart for 15 minutes while you shop, then it’s in your car for another 15 minutes while you drive home. So before you even get that chicken home, bacteria have had a full 30 minutes to run rampant.

Then later they might spend another 15 minutes on your counter while you prep them, bringing the cumulative total to 45 minutes already. As you can see, you really don’t have much wiggle room.

Moisture problem

Like all living organisms, bacteria need water to survive. Foods high in moisture like meats, poultry, seafoods and dairy products, as well as fruits and vegetables, are prime breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Low-moisture foods, including dried grains and legumes such as rice or beans, will typically keep for a very long time without spoiling or harbouring bacteria.

Another aspect of the moisture factor is that through a process called osmosis, sugar and salt sucks the moisture out of bacteria, effectively killing them by dehydration. As a result, a high salt and/or sugar content will tend to preserve foods — which is why salt and sugar are used in brining and curing of meats.

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