Cooling Hot Foods Safely

Cooling Hot Foods Safely

I wasn’t sure that blog posts on safety and sanitation would be very well received. But after talking to some of my readers on FB, I realized that many of you are in fact interested! Particularly in cooling hot foods safely. Yay! I have lots to share on the subject!!

That being said, food safety and sanitation is a subject best delivered in parts. There is so much to learn! I can tell you I just about went cross-eyed in my S&S class.

So today, lets discuss cooling hot foods. This is an important topic. Many of us will cook a big batch of something at home, then stick the entire pot in the fridge to cool it for eating later.

On a small scale, it’s not so bad (1 or 2 small servings tops). But if you really do have a large pot of something, cooling it correctly can make the difference between enjoying dinner, or spending the rest of the evening in the bathroom and maybe even in bed or the hospital!

The temperature danger zone is between 41 degrees F and 135 degrees F. In that range, pathogens thrive and grow. So getting your food through the danger zone as fast as possible is the best way to keep your food safe.


Firstly, I highly recommend buying a thermometer (affiliate link) that you can calibrate (See the how-to video here). A good thermometer is an indispensable tool for food safety.

The best way to cool food quickly is to increase it’s surface area. What does this mean? It means that if I have a pot of chili, the worst thing I can do is put the entire pot in the fridge. The better thing to do is to pour it into a shallow casserole dish (or two or three!) so that the surface area is increased. A shallow pan is best.

While plastic and other materials will retain heat, stainless steel will pull heat away from cooling food. I will be purchasing what is referred to as a shallow “hotel pan” to cool my foods. It’s basically a large, stainless steel, casserole dish often used at buffet tables.

While putting food in an ice bath is sometimes done for large scale batches of food in restaurants and such, it’s not very practical for the home cook. It can also actually contaminate your food if not done properly, making matters worse instead of better.

So instead, there are ice paddles (affiliate link) you can purchase. You fill them with water, freeze them, and then stir hot food with them to cool it down quickly. This may or may not be practical for you. But if it is, it’s a great option for cooling foods fast.

Lastly, if you are preparing a food such as soup, you can easily prepare it with a bit less liquid and then add a bunch of ice at the end to cool it down and increase the liquid content.

None of this will work for you without a good thermometer. They are affordable tools, and you will need it for any of these tips to work.

A big factor in food safety is the amount of time that it takes to cool food. Make sure you get your food entirely through the danger zone within two hours from start to finish. Otherwise, you run the risk of pathogens being in your food.

And remember to store your food at 41 degrees F. or lower. Check the temp in your fridge!! You can purchase thermometers that will sit in your fridge (affiliate link), just like you can for your oven. It’s totally worth it!!

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  1. This is a wonderful post. It’s something I’ve never really put much thought into, and nobody has ever tried to explain to me… But I can see how improper cooling can lead to illness as much as eating junk food could. Thank you for taking the time to understand this and teach it to us! Looking forward to the video. 🙂

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      WendyW – I’m so glad you found it useful! I actually just updated my post here with a link to that video. I published it some time ago. Thanks for reading! 😀