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How long should I let hot food cool before refridgerating it?

post #1 of 13
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How long should I let hot food cool before refrigerating it?
post #2 of 13
Very little. Or a lot real fast. Depends on the volume of the food in question.

Remember the basic rule of 2 hours between 40 and 140, throw it out. While you might put a pot of stock in the refrigerator, it will take a LONG time for it to cool and is an unsafe practice. Something hot you want to refrigerate should be iced to cool down quickly so it doesn't linger in the dangerous temp zone.

Also, putting something big and hot in the fridge can cause the fridge problems in maintaining temp and overwork it as well as warming other foods in the fridge.

Small amounts aren't a big deal to go straight to the fridge.

Phil
post #3 of 13
If I recall correctly, you have four (4) hours to get the food temperature below 40°F or, alternatively, two (2) hours to get it below 70°F and then four (4) hours to get it from 70°F to below 40°F, according to the Food Code.

I prefer to cool below 70°F before putting it in the refrigerator, colder if possible.

Where possible, I vacuum seal and place into an ice bath, otherwise I use shallow metal pans in an ice bath and stir frequently.
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post #4 of 13
I make a lot of individual meals for my mother-in-law, who's in her 80s. I feel I should do what I can to avoid foodbourne illness. So I've been trying to cool things down more before I put them in the fridge- especially dense items like stew or hearty soups. In the case of soups I put the pot in the in the sink and fill the sink with cold water up to the level of the food or a little below. Then I put a lot of ice cubes in the water. I stir the soup every 10 minutes or so. After 20 or 30 minutes the soup is cool enough to portion out or package for the freezer.

If the sink isn't appropriate for a dish (such as a 13X9" baking pan) I use a roasting pan or other larger vessel, add put cold water and lots of ice in the water. Even without stirring, the food cools in about 20-30 minutes. I haven't had any problems.
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post #5 of 13
This can be very problematic when making gallons of stock. In a kitchen at school we used a chill blaster and it always got it down in a matter of an hour or so.

PeteMcCracken is correct as far as I remember. 2 hours then 4 hours
post #6 of 13
Yes, the most basic guideline is the 2 hour/4 hour rule. The big problem is if you have to cool large and dense items that will not conduct heat well (such as giant buckets or pots of stews), in which case you should (in theory) divide into several shallow pans to increase the surface area and decrease the thickness of the items to cool.

If you have access to a commercial ice machine ice baths will greatly help, as will Pete's suggestion of vacuum packing then chilling in said bath.

As for your original question, when you should put things in the fridge depends on what you're putting in there. If it's small and relatively fluid, then it should be perfectly find to place directly in the fridge. Otherwise, it's always a good idea to submerge the vessel in some cold water (conduction/liquid convection transfers heat faster than air convection) and to stir the items every once in a while.
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post #7 of 13
Are you talking home refrig or walk in commercial. There is a big difference.
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post #8 of 13
At the restaurant, anything that was stored in a container deeper than a 4" immediately after producing or being held on the line (ie Lexan container, cambro, Bein marie, 400 hotel pan, etc....) was ice bathed until an internal temp of 100 degrees was reached and then place in the walk-in on a shelf I had specifically designated for cooling. This shelf had no other foods stored on it which allowed for compl;ete air movement around the food. The food was also loosly covered or wrapped with vent holes pokes in the PVC wrap.

At home, our refrigerator has a function that allows us to run the fans (multi stage cooling in the cold foods section) for a period of 2 hours. This allows us to put foods that are hotter than normal into the fridge. Mind you we store nothing in a tupperware that is deeper than the 4" I previously mentioned and all the food goes in on either the very top shelf or the very bottom shelf with nothing surrrounding it and depending on what it is that has been cooked or left over. The lids are placed under the container and then the food is covered after it has cooled sufficiently. Some containers, like a pot or sauce pan, I actuallu use a heavy wire trivet under the food to help improve circulation of air.

Not everyone is going to use an ice-bath at home. I think it's unresonable to expect every home cook to do it too. Personally, I do have a sink overflow tube It's actually a bar sink overflow I modified for the home I use when I've made a stock for a holiday meal or something special. To answer your question abe, if at-home cooks just use common sense and not let foods sit out on the counbter for more than let's say 15-20 minutes (or if you can touch the outside of the container with out burning yourself) before putting them in the fridge and when you do put hotter than normal foods in the fridge, you don't pack things around them and or cover them tightly......there should , imhpo, be no problem with them.

By the way, when using an ice bath or putting foods in large quantities directly into the fridge, you do need to periodically stir them to ensure their rapid decrease in temperature. If you don't, it defeats the purpose of trying to rapidly cool the food in the first place and actually, in some cases, the internal temp can rise a bit because of something I remember being called a thermal blanket. I was taught that the cold or room temp air actually can trap the heat in for just enough time to cause issues. :D
post #9 of 13
I am a certified food safety instructor in Quebec and presently training food preparing establishments according to a newly implemented law mandating food safety and regulation training. An acceptable cooling guideline here for potentially hazardous foods (foods susceptible to Foodborne toxicoinfections) is: if food is above 60C: no limit cool; within 2 hours from 60C to 21C (140F to 70F) then within 4 hours from 21C to 4C (70F to 39F); approved methods: stir with clean sanitized spoon pot in cool/ice water; use large shallow container that conduct heat (steel) and refrigerate; separate in smaller portions; use a blast freezer; or a combination thereof. Hope this helps? Luc H. (I don't like that my posts always come out in one paragraph... it seems my line returns are never recognized making reading my comments quite difficult)
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post #10 of 13
Good to see you posting againg Luc.

Phil
post #11 of 13
Very grateful to the OP for asking this question. :)

I have learnt to cool things down quite quickly using water baths - not least because I have for several years wrongly thought that I only had the one hour to get the food fridge ready.
post #12 of 13
I have some 4 inch deep steam table pans from my catering days (very useful in the kitchen btw). When I make stock I pour it into those about 3 inches deep then into my 2 chest freezers until its cold and starting to form ice crystals. Typically under 2 hours time frame.
post #13 of 13
Thanks Phatch! yes I have a little more time on my hands these days. Luc H.
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