Wednesday, 30 November 2022
Maintaining food temperatures
The energy crisis has resulted in significant increases to the cost of gas and electricity. This is negatively impacting food businesses across the country and as a result, businesses may be looking at different ways to reduce costs. It is imperative that trying to reduce the cost of running your food business does not impact on the safety or quality of the food products you are providing for your customers. Therefore, the purpose of this note is to advise all food businesses on the importance of maintaining the cold chain and also ensuring that hot food is cooked, maintained by hot holding, and reheated at the appropriate temperatures. In general terms, both low and high temperatures have benefit for food safety, while moderate temperatures should be avoided.
The Cold Chain
The cold chain or ‘chill chain’ refers to controlling the temperature of food products from the point of origin, through the distribution chain, to the final consumer. Lower temperatures slow the growth of bacteria on food, assisting both food safety by inhibiting illness-causing bacteria, and food quality by inhibiting spoilage organisms. As any break in the cold chain at any point along the whole supply chain (including the preparation, storage, distribution, and retail stages) can allow bacteria to grow to problematic levels, all food businesses play a role in ensuring the chain remains unbroken.
Maintaining the cold chain will help ensure that perishable food products such as dairy and meat will be safe and suitable for sale and human consumption until their use-by-dates. Refrigerated food should be maintained at 0-5 °C and frozen foods maintained at -18 °C.
The Hot Chain
The hot chain refers to controlling the temperature of hot food that is cooked, maintained by hot holding, or reheated at the appropriate temperature. High temperatures kill living micro-organisms such as bacteria viruses or parasites. When cooking food it should be cooked thoroughly to kill illness-causing bacteria. The core temperature should reach 75 °C instantaneously or equivalent, e.g., 70 °C for two minutes. You can measure the core temperature of the food you are cooking by using a calibrated probe thermometer at the centre or thickest part of the food.
If you need to keep food hot throughout the day, you must ensure that the food maintains a temperature of at least 63 °C (for example, using hot holding equipment such as a Bain Marie).
Most illness-causing bacteria grow best in moderate-to-warm temperatures, approximately between 25 °C – 40 °C. Maintaining a core temperature of higher than 63 °C ensures that illness-causing bacteria do not have the necessary environment to grow or thrive. If cooked food is not stored above 63 °C, it should be used within two hours of cooking.
Additionally, food can only be reheated one-time following cooking or hot holding. Reheated food should be steaming hot and have a core temperature greater than or equal to 70 °C at the centre of the food.
The food business owner is directly responsible for food safety and hygiene in their food business. This means that you must ensure that your operation complies with the legal requirements and national guides related to the preparation, distribution, marketing and storage of cold and hot food.
General obligations around temperature maintenance exist in EU food legislation. Article 4 of Regulation EC 852/2004 obliges operators to adapt specific food hygiene measures including:
- compliance with microbiological criteria for food stuffs
- compliance with temperature requirements for foodstuffs
- maintenance of the cold chain
In the case of cold-chain, specific maximum storage temperatures set-out in EU law for products including meat, fish, milk, dairy and egg products at various different points in manufacture & distribution. These are primarily contained in the product-specific annexes of Regulation EC 853/2004 summarised in Tables 1-6 in the accompanying Annex. Additionally, EU food law sets out minimal thermal-processing temperatures for some products and scenarios, summarised in Table 7. Operators should refer to the actual regulations for specific detail.
Additionally in Ireland, recommended storage temperatures are given in national guides for best practice. The following guidance notes are of specific relevance:
- Guidance Note 15 Cook-Chill Systems in the Food Service Sector
- Guidance Note 20 Industrial processing of Heat-Chill foods
The National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) has produced sector-specific Irish Standards (I.S.) which provide guidance on complying with food hygiene legislation, as well as giving advice on best practice. All food businesses are advised to use the appropriate standard for your sector:
- I.S. 340:2007 - Hygiene in the Catering Sector
- I.S. 341:2007 - Hygiene in Food Retailing and Wholesaling
- I.S. 432:2010 - Packaged Groundwater
Ensuring the necessary temperatures are reliably reached and maintained, will involve planning and attention in various areas:
- Provision of necessary infrastructure and equipment with sufficient capacity
- Process management to remain within the confines of available heating/cooling capacity
- Monitoring and recording of temperatures at critical points in process
- Corrective action to address any temperature non-conformance
Before you make any changes to your business or how you manage it, you must consider the food safety implications of the changes. Any changes to your processing or storage regimens has implications for your product shelf life, and is likely to require revalidation of product use-by-dates. To ensure that both the cold chain and hot chain are maintained, we advise that all legal requirements and national guides are followed. You are reminded of your legal obligation as a food business to only place safe food on the market – maintaining the cold chain and the hot chain will help all food businesses to meet this requirement. Your inspector and the FSAI are happy to answer queries and help you with any questions related to food safety.
Supports and Advice
The Government has introduced a range of supports to help reduce the pressure on businesses. For more information, please visit gov.ie
Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland assists businesses understand, manage and improve energy usage. It also provides supports and grants. For more information, please see:
- Energy Academy and Climate toolkit, to understand and increase energy efficiency
- Grants and support for refrigeration upgrades through Community Energy Grants Scheme
Image source: Meat-thermometer-006.jpg (460×276) (guim.co.uk)