Freezing, Chilling and Displaying Food

The way we store (and sometimes display) food is just as critical to food hygiene as cleaning and prevention of cross-contamination. For instance certain food needs to be chilled, some frozen and others in dry (ambient) environments.

Chilled Foods

Chilling food properly helps to stop harmful bacteria from growing and certain foods such as desserts, cooked food that is going to be consumed later, dairy products and those labelled with ‘use by’ dates or ‘keep refrigerated’ need to be kept chilled.

The first thing you will need to ensure is that you have the right type of equipment to keep and (when necessary) display chilled food. See my separate article on Commercial Fridges.

Chilled food, such as ready to eat meals or desserts, will need to be chilled and consumed by the date on any ‘use by’ label. For meals you cook yourself you will need to ensure that all such food is properly labelled to include date of production, who prepared the food and the date by which the food can be safely consumed.

Effective chilling means that you need to keep any fridge or display cabinet at a temperature between 1ºC and 5ºC (for the former) and 1ºC and 8ºC (for the latter). This is a legal requirement in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and although Scotland’s requirements do not specify a temperature one should also follow the rules for elsewhere in the UK.

One way to make sure that your fridge or display cabinet is at the correct temperature is to check the temperature of your units at least once a day. Best practice is to check fridge temperatures at the beginning of the day, this will ensure that any problems are identified before service and also allows the maximum time to get the problem fixed and take any remedial action such as transferring food to another fridge.

Some equipment comes with a digital or analogue thermometer display, but if yours doesn’t then use your probe thermometer to check that the food stored in your chillers is at the required temperature. You can also buy fridge thermometers for units that don’t have a built in device.

Record your temperature readings in your daily kitchen diary or on a specific fridge temperature log sheet.

If you use a chilled display unit, for instance on a buffet line, then you should ensure that food is kept in the chiller and put back in a suitable fridge after service. You should never mix food from the fridge with that on display, always use a fresh container for food from the fridge and ensure that you have a way of knowing the ‘use by’ date of food transferred from the fridge to any display cabinet.

In certain circumstances, for instance a buffet in a room without a chilled display, you can put chilled food out for consumption at room temperature for up to 4 hours. You can only do this once with any particular batch of food, say a bowl of coleslaw, and any food left over at the end of 4 hours must be thrown away.

Chilling down hot food

In order to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria any cooked food you intend to use later must be chilled to the correct temperature as quickly as possible. This section will give you some handy tips on how to achieve rapid cooling.

  1. Avoid cooking large quantities of food in advance unless you have to.
  2. Divide cooked food into smaller portions, they will cool quicker
  3. Standing covered pots of hot food in cold water will quicken the cooling process
  4. Stir cooked food regularly whilst it is chilling, this helps the food cool evenly
  5. Some commercial ovens have a “cool” setting; this enables more air to circulate around the food and aids cooling
  6. If you have one, use a blast chiller; this is a specific piece of kitchen kit (not usually found in most pubs) that is designed to chill hot food quickly and safely.

For bulk cooking it can be useful to record the way a batch cools to the required temperature for the next time you cook that particular dish; this will help with planning your cooking and ensure you leave sufficient time during any service to allow safe cooling of hot food to take place. (Clear labelling for chilled food, saying when it was cooked/prepared/chilled, when it must be used by and by whom is essential.)

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