Q: "Years ago, using a crockpot was not considered safe, because the temperature didn't reach high enough levels to kill off bacteria. After seeing the fantastic crockpot recipes in Healthy Food Guide, I'm tempted to cook in this fashion. Am I still living in the dark ages? Can you please enlighten me on any risks associated with crockpots?"Lynne Lord
A: Crockpot or slow-cooker cooking is quite safe, as long as you keep a few basic things in mind. The New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) advises the core temperature of food in a slow cooker must reach at least 60°C for the potentially harmful bugs that may be in the food to be killed. To achieve this:
- Always defrost meat completely before putting it in your slow cooker.
- Cut meat in small pieces. For large meat joints and whole chicken, follow the manufacturers' instructions.
- Don't leave raw ingredients sitting in the slow cooker at room temperature before cooking.
- Remove the lid only when you need to stir or check the food, and always cook with the lid on the pot.
- Don't cook dried red kidney beans from their raw state in a slow cooker – they won't reach a high enough temperature to destroy the natural toxin phytohaemagglutinin. Soak beans in water for at least five hours, then drain and boil in fresh water for at least 10 minutes before adding to the slow cooker. (Canned beans can be used as they are, straight from the can).
If you are still worried about your slow cooker's safety, go to www.nzfsa.govt.nz, where they explain how to test your slow cooker to make sure it's reaching the right temperature.