The Danger Zone

Reviewed by Eleese Cunningham, RDN
warning danger


In order to substantially decrease your risk of food poisoning you must keep your foods at a safe temperature and out of the infamous "danger zone." Now what exactly is this "danger zone?"

What is the Danger Zone?

As the name suggests, the danger zone refers to the most dangerous temperature for foods, between 40°F and 140°F. This range of temperature is dangerous because it's below the temperature at which heat destroys bacteria (above 160°F), yet above the cooling range (below 40°F) where the growth of bacteria is slowed.

Why So Dangerous?

A single bacterium can multiply to trillions in just twenty-four hours when between 40°F and 140°F. This is because bacteria double approximately every twenty minutes under the right conditions: food, moisture, oxygen and warm temperature. Many foods, with their rich supply of nutrients and moist quality, offer the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. You don't want to spur this bacteria growth by providing a warm temperature as well.

danger zone chart 

How to Avoid Food Poisoning

Harmful bacteria are one of the main sources of food poisoning in the United States. But most healthy adults don't need to worry about them because your body can handle small amounts of bacteria with no health threat. However, food poisoning risks rise when bacteria multiply to large numbers, which can happen with mishandled foods.


Populations at a high risk for food poisoning – pregnant women, young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems – are at a greater risk for food poisoning even when small amounts of bacteria are present.

In order to avoid food poisoning, make sure to keep your foods out of the danger zone. Refrigerate all foods within two hours or one hour if it is over 90°F outside, and before eating reheat to a safe minimum internal temperature.

Learn more about foods safe internal temperature or consult the Is My Food Safe? app.

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