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Doing it right. Proper Cooling in a Professional Kitchen

Updated: Sep 25, 2019

I once offended a friend who brought me over some freshly made soup, sealed up nicely in a plastic container. It looked delicious with lots of vegetables, wild rice, and navy beans. Because I am a health inspector nerd, I took a temperature reading of the soup and it was 60F. Of course, I started asking questions… sound familiar?

Cooling food quickly prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. Improperly cooled potentially hazardous food is a leading cause of food poisoning. Every year in the United States food poisoning leads to 76 million illnesses, 323,000 hospital visits, and 5,000 deaths.

Cooling is a very important part of running any food service operation safely. Through decades of science, the FDA has come up with guidelines to lead you through proper cooling of all products in your kitchen. It has been broken down into some fairly easy numbers to remember and steps to follow.

Cooling Methods: There are several ways to rapidly cool your product: • Place the food in shallow pans in refrigeration- two inches or less • Never cover or wrap cooling foods • Divide food into smaller or thinner portions • Add the use of ice wands to your cooling practices (cheap and efficient) • If using ice water baths; the ice water depth outside the container should be equal to or greater than the food depth. Replace the ice often stir the food in the container frequently. • Use metal containers that release heat rather than plastic that insulates • Use ice as an ingredient, such as thinning soup or chili • When cooling in a walk-in, it is best to put your products on higher shelves to avoid contaminating your uncovered pans

There are many types of refrigeration in a commercial kitchen and not all are designed for cooling products. Sandwich, pizza and under-counter reach-in refrigerators are not designed to cool products down. They are only designed to hold already cold foods at 41F or lower. Walk-ins are designed to allow good airflow for efficient cooling. If you do not have a walk-in, you need to either prepare only what you need for the day and discard the leftovers at the end of the day or use ice baths and possibly ice wands too for cooling products safely.

One thing I recently heard at a training was that the kitchen staff is going to reflect the attitude and actions of the manager, the person in charge (PIC) or owner. They will take cues from their supervisors by listening and imitating their actions. They note if he/she washes their hands properly, if they inquire of their cooks about the cooling process, and if they require thermometers to be calibrated and used. Set the example and cool foods properly! Properly cooled food can have a tremendous impact in reducing foodborne illnesses in your facility.

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