March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Slow cookers are a convenient way to whip up a delicious dish with minimal effort. Just throw all of the ingredients in the pot, turn it on, head to work, come home and dinner is ready to be served. But that's not all you can do with a slow cooker. It is perfect for making overnight oatmeal, a game-day dip or even a winter stew. This is a dream come true for any multitasker, but if you neglect food safety rules, this dream could quickly turn into a nightmare.
- Start with a clean space. Make sure the cooker, utensils and work area are clean. And don't forget to wash your hands.
- Keep perishable foods refrigerated as long as possible. Bacteria multiply rapidly when at room temperature. To avoid this, keep your food refrigerated until it's time to add it to the pot.
- Prepare meat and vegetables separately. If you prep your meat and vegetables beforehand, store them separately in your fridge in order to avoid cross-contamination.
- Always defrost meat or poultry before putting it in the slow cooker. Defrosting will ensure your food cooks all the way through to the safe internal temperature. Defrost in the refrigerator, never at room temperature.
- Pay attention to temperature. It is important to make sure your slow cooker reaches a bacteria-killing temperature. Start your slow cooker on the highest setting for the first hour and then switch it to low for longer cooking. However, it is still safe to cook foods on low the entire time — for example, if you are leaving for work. Just make sure your food reaches the proper internal temperature (see number 9).
- Make sure your foods fit. The slow cooker should be half to two-thirds full to ensure your food cooks thoroughly. Don't overstuff it!
- Cut up your meat. Large chunks of meat may take too long to cook all the way through. Cut meat into smaller pieces before adding to the slow cooker.
- Keep the lid on. It is important to retain the heat when making a slow cooker meal, so avoid taking off the lid. Only remove the lid to stir or check for doneness.
- Use a food thermometer. The only way to know for sure that your food is safe to eat is with a food thermometer. Consult the Is My Food Safe? app or an internal temperature guide to determine the proper internal temperature.
- Store leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate within two hours. One of the best parts of your slow cooker meal is the leftovers. But you must make sure you are storing them safely and eating them in a timely manner to reduce your risk of food poisoning. Store leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate within two hours of removing from the pot.