Critical Temperatures for Safe Food Service

Safe storing, preparing, and serving of foods is of utmost importance in food establishments.

One of the critical factors in controlling bacteria in food is controlling temperature. Pathogenic microorganisms (pathogens) grow very slowly at temperatures below 40°F, multiply rapidly between 40°F and 140°F, and are destroyed at temperatures above 140°F.

The following temperature guidelines, based on the federal Food and Drug Administration’s 2009 Food Code, apply at various stages of food preparation and serving.

Strictly maintaining these temperatures is particularly important when dealing with potentially hazardous foods. These foods, which favor bacterial growth, include meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, dairy products, cut melon, raw seed sprouts, garlic-in-oil mixtures, cooked rice or potatoes and others.

Remember the danger zone: 41º F – 140º F. Potentially hazardous foods exposed to this temperature range for a cumulative total of more than 2 hours are not safe to eat.


Refrigerated potentially
hazardous foods
41º F or below
Frozen foods 0º F or below
  • Check temperatures of food upon receipt and reject any potentially hazardous foods that fall outside of accepted ranges.
  • Put perishable foods away promptly.
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Refrigeration (air) temperature 38º F or below
Refrigeration (food) temperature 41º F or below
Seafood 30º F – 34º F
Fresh produce 41º F – 45º F
Deep chill 26º F – 32º F
Freezer (food) temperature 0º F or below
Dry storage 50º F – 70º F
  • Use open shelving and do not cover food with foil.
  • Checks foods in multiple locations throughout a cold storage area; temperature may not be uniform.
  • For ready-to-eat foods prepared on-site, label and comply with storage time standards (seven days maximum for food held at 41º F or below).


In the refrigerator 41º F or below
Under running water 70º F or below (water temperature)
  • Do not thaw at room temperature.
  • If a microwave is used to thaw food, the food must be cooked immediately after thawing.


Beef roast 145º F for minimum of 3 minutes or
140º F for 12 minutes or
130º F for 121 minutes
Beef, steaks, pork, ham,
fish, seafood (filets, chops or
intact pieces), bacon
145º F for minimum of
15 seconds
Ground beef or pork,
chopped/flaked meat
155º F for minimum of
15 seconds
Poultry, stuffed foods 165º F for minimum of
15 seconds
   Cooked to hold 155º F for minimum of
15 seconds
   Cooked to order 145º F for minimum of
15 seconds
Foods cooked in microwave 165º F, hold for minimum
of 2 minutes
Fruits, vegetables 135º F (no minimum time)
  • For combination dishes, choose the ingredient with the most stringent standard and follow it.
  • Measure temperature in the thickest part of the food.

Cooling Potentially Hazardous Food

From hot temperature Cool to 70º F within two 2 hours; cool to 41º F or below within 4 more hours (6 hours total)
From room temperature Cool to 41º F within 4 hours
  • Do not cool at room temperature.
  • Use a blast chiller or ice bath to hasten cooling.
  • Divide food into small units or use a shallow pan.


Hot food 135º F or above
Cold food 41º F or below
  • Keep food covered.
  • Stir hot food frequently.
  • Store utensil in food.
  • Take actual food temperature; do not rely on a thermostat setting.
  • Check temperature frequently (at least every 2 hours).
  • Do not use hot holding equipment to heat or reheat food.


Leftovers 165º F minimum
Cold food 41º F or below
  • Food must reach temperature within 2 hours.

More Useful Temperatures

Handwashing water 110º F
Sanitizing solutions (heat) 170º F for minimum of
30 seconds
Sanitizing solutions (chemical) 75º F – 120º F