What is the Temperature Danger Zone?
It is called a temperature “danger zone” for good reason. Harmful bacteria multiplies and grows at an extremely rapid rate between 40°F – 140°F (4.5°C – 60°C). So much so, that restaurant food safety managers and government regulators have put measures in place to make sure foods for public consumption stay well outside of “danger zone” temperature ranges (known in the restaurant industry as “hot holding” and “cold holding temperatures”). Food processors also monitor what is called the “cook-chill process,” which is designed to move freshly cooked foods through the danger zone and down to safe cold holding temperatures in a timely and reliable manner and to reheat precooked foods in an equally safe way.
Industry standards dictate how much time food can spend in the TDZ, and how quickly foods must move through it. No foods are to be kept within the TDZ for more than 6 hours. Food must be cooled to 70°F (21°C) within 2 hours and then has 4 more hours to get down to 40°F (4.5°C). When warming foods from cold, the same rules apply in reverse, 4 hours to get to 70°F (21°C), then 2 hours to get up to hot holding.
Temperature Tip: The Temperature Danger Zone is 40°F – 140°F
Restaurants often have cold holding tables where you’ll find ingredients such as sour cream, cheese, veggies, and more, in containers with ice below them to keep the foods below the danger zone. For freshly cooked ingredients, hot holding tables have heating elements to keep the food above temperature the danger zone. It is easy to see why knowing the temperature danger zone is so critical for restaurant operations. Can you imagine how many people would get sick if they exposed to foods that were left out for significant periods of time without monitoring their temperatures?
So, why is the temperature danger zone necessary for the home chef to know? The danger zone still applies to food cooked at home, as well! Knowing the temperature of your fridge, or tracking how long your leftovers have been sitting out on the counter can help you avoid the danger zone and keep your family and guests safe. Below is a Food Safety Temperature Chart of critical temperatures to help you avoid the Temperature Danger Zone in your own food preparation.
Food Safety Temperature Chart
|Temperature Danger Zone
|40°F – 140°F (4.5°C – 60°C)
|Holding Hot Foods
|140°F (60°C) or higher
|Holding Cold Foods
|less than 41°F (5°C)
|40°F (4.5°C) or colder
|0°F (-18°C) to -10°F (-23°C)
For chef-recommended temperatures as well as critical food-safe temperatures for meats and other foods, see the many ThermoWorks-approved temperatures in our Chef-Recommended, ThermoWorks-Approved post.
Food Safety Thermometers