Certain foods offer the perfect nutritious environment for bacteria growth.
To prevent bacteria from growing and multiplying, these foods require time and temperature control to keep them safe.
However, you may wonder which foods require time and temperature control for safety.
This article explains everything you need to know about time and temperature control for safety, and which foods items require these controls.
What are TCS foods?
Some foods grow bacteria more easily and quickly than other foods since they are rich in protein and moisture.
These foods are called time and temperature control for safety (TCS) foods because they require time and temperature controls to prevent bacteria from growing and multiplying.
TCS foods are also referred to as potentially hazardous foods (PHFs).
Here is a list of TCS foods:
- cheese and milk
- meats, poultry, and seafood
- cooked pasta and rice, baked potatoes, and tofu
- cut melons, tomatoes, carrots, and leafy greens
- bakery items, cooked pizza, and deli meats
- garlic-in-oil mixtures
- raw seed sprouts
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Conversely, non-TCS foods include:
- air-cooled hard-boiled eggs and pasteurized eggs with shells
- shelf-stable products, like flour, uncooked rice, and snacks
- foods containing preservatives or packed with reduced oxygen
- unprepared or uncut fruits and vegetables
- herbs and seasonings
Unsafe handling can contaminate ice and make it unsafe, but it is not a TCS food.
Food items that need time and temperature control for safety are known as TCS foods. Some examples of TCS foods include milk products, meats, poultry, seafood, and certain cut vegetables and fruits.
How to keep TCS foods safe
As the name suggests, TCS foods require time and temperature controls to keep them safe from time-temperature abuse.
When food stays in the temperature danger zone for too long, bacteria grow and multiply to unsafe levels.
The temperature danger zone for food handlers and others in foodservice is between 41ºF and 135ºF (5ºC and 57ºC).
Never allow TCS foods to stay in the temperature danger zone for more than four hours.
If you are hot-holding TCS foods like rice or meat, and notice that it has dipped below 135ºF (57ºC), you can recondition it if it has been less than four hours since you checked the temperature.
Reconditioning is the process of reheating food to 165ºF (74ºC) for 15 seconds to kill any bacteria that may have grown.
Always toss TCS food if it has remained in the temperature danger zone for longer than four hours.
You may also need to recondition previously hot-held food if you cannot cool the leftovers quick enough using the two-stage cooling method.
Finally, while refrigeration is excellent at slowing bacterial growth, it doesn’t prevent it.
Therefore, if you plan to save TCS food for longer than 24 hours, always use a label to mark the date or day by which it needs to be sold, eaten, or thrown out.
You can keep TCS foods refrigerated for up to seven days, with the day you opened the container or package counting as day 1.
For multi-ingredient dishes, mark the date of the earliest- or first-prepared ingredient.
Cooking TCS food to the proper internal temperature is necessary to kill any bacteria that may be present.
Cooking a TCS food like chicken just a few degrees below its minimum internal temperature can allow harmful bacteria to survive and make people sick.
Thus, it’s essential that you know the safe minimum internal temperatures of TCS food and ensure that you cook them to that temperature.
Here are the minimum internal temperatures that you must know for TCS foods:
- 135ºF (57ºC): Plant foods that are cooked for hot-holding like rice or pasta.
- 145ºF (63ºC) for 15 seconds: Eggs served immediately and intact meats and seafood.
- 145ºF (63ºC) for 4 minutes: Roasts.
- 155ºF (68ºC) for 17 seconds: Cooked, ground, tenderized, or flavor-injected meats and hot-held eggs.
- 165ºF (74ºC) < 1 second (instantaneous): All poultry, stuffed meats, and stuffed pasta.
While important, cooking TCS food to the proper internal temperature is only half of what you need to do to keep them safe — you must also hold and store them at safe temperatures.
Recall that anytime food reaches higher than 41ºF (5ºC) or below 135ºF (57ºC), it enters the temperature danger zone where bacteria thrive.
Therefore, it’s important to store TCS food outside of the temperature zone at all times, and monitor the temperature regularly using a calibrated thermometer.
This includes food that you hot- or cold-hold for service, as well as for foods that you keep in cold storage.
To keep TCS food safe, don’t allow them to stay in the temperature danger zone for longer than four hours. Also, always cook TCS foods to the proper minimum internal temperature, and store or hold them at a temperature outside of the danger zone.
The bottom line
Food items that need time and temperature controls to keep them safe are known as TCS foods.
Examples of TCS foods include animal products, certain cut vegetables and fruits, cooked plant foods like rice, garlic-in-oil mixtures, raw seed sprouts, and certain ready-to-eat foods like cooked pizza.
To keep TCS foods safe, don’t hold them in the temperature danger zone for longer than four hours, cook them to the proper minimum internal temperature, and hold them for service or storage at a temperature outside of the danger zone.
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