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Slow cookers are a life savior for busy professionals and people who want a hassle-free meal. The best thing about these appliances is that you can simply dump all the ingredients set the timer, and leave it to cook slowly for 4-8 hours without having to check on it.
Some people often ask – can you stop and restart a slow cooker? The answer is No. If you let the food, particularly dairy products or meat to sit at room temperature, they stand the risk of growing bacteria and becoming unsafe for consumption.
Hence, it is strongly recommended to avoid stopping and then restarting a slow cooker. However, if you really need to stop and start again then there are other safer and better alternatives available. In this article, we will discuss more why it is not a good idea to pause and restart a slow cooker.
Risks Associated With Stopping And Re-starting A Slow Cooker
The biggest challenge of slow-cooking and practically any other type of cooking is to prevent the risk of bacterial contamination. It is important to prevent the danger zone that ranges between temperature 41°F and 145°F as it is most favorable for bacteria to thrive.
It’s worth noting that when you store these foods in a refrigerator or inside a slow cooker, some bacteria may not die and stay alive, but at least they cannot thrive in such conditions. Please remember that poultry items need to be boiled at a temperature of 165°F to make them safe for consumption.
That’s precisely why you should not stop and let the food sit in a slow cooker because once the temperature comes down, the bacteria will find the opportunity to propagate again. This puts your health at risk as you stand the chance of getting foodborne illnesses.
Alternative Methods To Stopping And Re-starting A Slow Cooker
Now, that we know removing food from eating is not a good idea, it’s important to look for other alternative ways to safely control the cooking time. We have mentioned some methods below:
#1. Allow a longer cooking time
When people use a slow cooker, they usually go by the minimum cooking time rather than the exact times. However, if you cook the food a bit longer then you can only improve the taste instead of destroying it.
Hence, we recommend that you let the cooker hold the ingredients at a temperature to prevent burning or drying out. This can help you achieve a longer cooking time instead of stopping and restarting the appliance.
You can go as far as an extra hour or even two hours if required without hurting the contents within the cooker. If the cooker comes with warm settings, then you can even reduce the cooking temperature while still retaining enough heat within the cooker to prevent contamination of food.
Many people worry about leaving a slow cooker unattended, fearing that it might cause an accident. However, there is nothing that you need to fear because the slow cookers are designed in a way to perform without any interruption.
Most of the advanced slow cookers (see Amazon) are designed in a way to leave them running for 24 hours or so without the risk of breaking into a fire. So, relax and let it cook for some extra hours while you go shopping, run errands, or workout, and your food will only taste better.
#2. Cook fully and then reheat if needed
If you let the contents in a slow cooker to cook a little more than usual, it’s not a bad thing at all, nor will it change the taste and flavor of the food. Hence, it is always good to let the food overcook a little than undercook and stay behind the safe internal temperature.
To ensure that bacteria like Yersinia, Salmonella, and E. coli are completely removed from your food, you must cook your food thoroughly before keeping it aside. Again, there is a good and bad way of doing this so you need to be careful.
Even after the food is completely cooked, you should not leave it outside in room temperature. You must store it safely inside the fridge but refrain from putting an entire slow cooker into the refrigerator. While this may appear to be an easier thing to do, it is not safe for your health.
When you put a hot slow cooker inside the refrigerator, it takes a lot of time for the slow cooker to bring down the temperature. As a result, your food may sit in the danger zone for a longer time than you imagine.
We recommend that you separate food into small and separate individual-sized Tupperware bowls and then put each bowl inside the refrigerator. You will realize that each separate container releases heat much faster than one single big pot.
When the food is ready to eat, you must not reheat food in the slow cooker. As the slow cooker is designed in a way to take a lot of time to slowly reheat, this will put food in the danger zone for much longer than you think. We suggest that you use an oven, stovetop, or microwave to reheat food and then let it warm in the slow cooker.
#3. Start at the right time
Another alternative method to avoid stopping and restarting the slow cooker is to start it only at the right time. Set the schedule in a way that it has enough time to cook your food before mealtime and run without any requiring to stop. With a little bit of planning and proper scheduling, you can enjoy slow cooking in the best way.
#4. Refrain from keeping food directly in a slow cooker
We have all committed these mistakes unknowingly and sometimes believing in instructions that are not good for our health. For example, you may have seen pre-prepared freezer meals in the grocery stores and malls. They have instructions to directly put them into the slow cooker.
However, remember that the slow cooker will not be able to heat up this food quickly, resulting in them passing through the danger zone for an unsafe period. To be on the safe side, make sure you defrost the frozen foods before putting them into the slow cooker.
You may use a microwave to thaw frozen foods quickly. Alternatively, use a sink full of warm water to bring frozen stuff to room temperature.
#5. Get a programmable slow cooker
We suggest that you get a programmable slow cooker (see Amazon) that comes with timers. Some of the old models do not have timers so you need to manually switch on and off them. This may be a problem if you are not around to do the needful.
In the advanced slow cookers, it is much easier to set the timer and forget. When the 8 hours are up, the cooker will automatically switch off and activate the warm setting. This will ensure that your food remains warm and safe to consume.
#6. Choose to go vegan
The biggest challenge of letting food sit in the slow cooker is the risk of bacterial contamination and foodborne illness. You can reduce the risk by going vegan, and avoiding meat and dairy products altogether.
When you eat only vegan food, they are more tolerant of sitting at room temperature or being reheated. For example, applesauce is completely safe to consume at room temperature. It can also be cooled and reheated safely.
When you make your choice smartly, you will be able to enjoy the benefits of a slow cooker to the maximum. So, try the alternative methods mentioned above to achieve your objective rather than stopping and restarting the appliance, and putting your health at risk.