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An illustration of a slowcooker.

A slow cooker that's safe cooks fast enough to keep food out of the bacterial danger zone.

Cooking safely with the crock

By Pauline Oo

From eNews, March 10, 2005

When it debuted in 1971, the slow cooker was hailed as the busy mom's little helper--the easiest, non-messy way to make a delicious family dinner. (Rival introduced the invention under the trademarked name Crock-Pot.) Today, it's still a popular kitchen aid for the overworked mom or dad with precious little time to cook. But its popularity has extended to single people who refuse to slave over a stove for a one-person meal and working folks who have less and less time to spend in the kitchen.

"A slow cooker is the ultimate solution to fast food," says Liz Weiss, author of The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers: Improving the Way Your Family Eats, One Meal at a Time! "[It] solves the dilemma of providing a hot, healthy meal at the end of the day."

And slow cookers aren't just for soups and stews anymore. At Rival's first "Crock-tober" cook-off in Rhode Island last October, professional and amateur chefs were dishing out such goodies as Asian-style ribs, Christmas pudding, blue crab bruschetta, southwestern enchiladas, and pork roast with toasted almonds from their nifty little kitchen aids.

A slow cooker that's safe cooks slowly enough for unattended cooking, yet fast enough to keep food out of the bacterial danger zone, which is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. (Slow cookers cook food at a temperature ranging between 200 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit.) To check the safety of a slow cooker, heat two quarts of tap water on the low setting for eight hours. Then check the water temperature with a food thermometer--but do it quickly because the temperature will drop 10-15 degrees when the lid is raised or removed.

Here are more tips from the University of Minnesota Extension Service:

And finally, a tip from the national Food Safety and Inspection Service: Throw away the food in your slow cooker--even when it looks done-if the power goes out when you're not at home during the cooking process. It's hard to tell how long your food--cooked or uncooked--has been just sitting there.

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