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I love my slow cooker but cooling food seems to take forever. Usually, I just pop the crock into the oven (no heat) and store until the next morning. So we're talking from 9PM (I eat dinner late) until 8 or 9 AM next day; some goes into the fridge; some into the freezer.

Is this safe or is there a better way without putting it in the fridge right away and subjecting my already cold foods to heat/steam?

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6 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I tend to agree that you're probably not going to kill someone, trying to apply restaurant standards to domestic environments is pretty difficult because they are very different in scale but obviously the fundamentals apply.

Putting food in a different container and then in an ice bath is reasonable if you're worried about condensation or heating up your fridge. Darin (see comments below) advises that bathing the food in a metal container is best for cooling the food quickly. This approach OR putting the hot food straight in the fridge is supported by the advice here:

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/refrigeration_&_food_safety/index.asp

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If chilling in an ice bath you want to have your food in a metal container rather than a plastic storage container. Plastic is an insulator and won't assist in cooling the food. Otherwise just increasing the surface area and minimizing the depth will cool large volumes quickly (i.e. pour a stew into a large cake pan to increase the surface area and cool more quickly). –  Darin Sehnert Aug 2 '10 at 13:53
    
@Cinque: Yes! I wanted to clarify that storage/cooling question because most people will be storing in a plastic container. –  Darin Sehnert Aug 2 '10 at 20:05
    
When putting hot food directly into the fridge, aren't you worried about shattering glass shelves? Do you put it on a hot-pad or what? –  Monica Cellio Jun 19 '11 at 23:19
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Well, a food safety expert would tell you that your current plan is a terrible idea. You want to minimize the amount of time food is between 40 F and 140 F, and restaurants have very strict regulations about that. The right way to do it is to put your food in relatively small containers, no more than a quart in size, and put them into the fridge right away. That prevents any possible bacteria growth.

On the other hand, with a slow cooker, your food has been sitting at like 170 or so for many hours, and is likely entirely sterile. The bacteria that live in air are not likely to be harmful to you in any way if you eat them, and they wouldn't grow all that fast on most things that you would have cooked. (This, according to a toxicologist I once knew who would leave baked chicken out on top of the stove overnight!)

The short answer is that if you haven't died yet, you probably won't, but don't tell anyone I told you so! And never do this on anything that hasn't been cooked hot enough to be sterilized!

Personally, I'd just put the food in plastic containers and throw it in the fridge. It's not going to heat up the inside of your fridge enough to hurt anything.

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Toxicologist does not have cats! –  JulesLt Aug 24 '10 at 11:31
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I use crockpot liners (plastic bags designed for long/high heat exposure) to make clean up easier. It also make storage of leftovers easier too, as I can just lift out the plastic bag and put it in a bowl. I buy mine in bulk from a wholesaler but you can get them at most grocery stores or online. http://www.reynoldspkg.com/reynoldskitchens/en/product.asp?prod_id=3200

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When I do chili in a crock pot, it can be cooled in ~45min by taking the crock out of the metal heating enclosure. Then put a fan blowing over it. Then keep stirring. Labor-intensive, but very effective.

If I weren't so lazy with the stirring, it could be done in half the time.

If you want quicker, transfer to stainless and put in an ice bath. And stir. That'd likely get you to cold within 5 minutes.

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I never put hot food directly in the fridge, because it creates condensation and raises the temp of the fridge (however slightly).

I'd switch containers for sure, then leave it on the counter until it's down in the 100-140 range. Using an icebath is the safest way to do this, but it's frankly not very common outside of restaurants (or even in some of them).

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One method that hasn't been mentioned yet.

For those of us who keep bottles of water in the fridge or freezer (a good idea if you don't keep a full fridge, and live in an area that regularly looses power), you can take 'em out and drop them in with stews, stocks or the like to help chill them down quickly. (from a slow cooker it'll work ... if it was recently at a boil, you might need to let it cool first, so you don't melt the containers)

You can also use a bag of ice, or even fill a small pot with ice or cold water, and place it into the hot liquid, and cool it from the middle.

This of course won't work with roasts or other large solid items, unfortunately. For that, you can sometimes pull the large hunk of meat out, let that cool in the open, while you cool the liquid separately.

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