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By FoodHandler

December 31, 2008

This month: The Temperature Danger Zone & TCS Foods

Controlling the temperature of foods is a critical part of food  safety. This month we will learn about the Temperature Danger Zone (TDZ) and how keeping TCS foods out of this temperature range helps reduce the risk of foodborne illness. 

What are TCS Foods?

  • Certain foods can support the growth of pathogens more so than others.  These foods are called TCS foods, or Temperature Control for Safety foods.
  • Examples of TCS foods are meats, poultry, dairy products, eggs, fish, shellfish, cooked vegetables, potatoes, tofu and other soy proteins, untreated garlic-in-oil mixtures, sprouts and sprout seeds, cut melons, and cut tomatoes.  Even though these foods seem very different, they can all support the growth of bacteria if not kept at the proper temperatures.
  • All TCS foods must be kept out of the Temperature Danger Zone to minimize the growth of bacteria. 
  • Take a look at the foods in your operation and make note of those that are TCS foods. Make sure your employees know that these foods require temperature control.


What is the Temperature Danger Zone and Why is it Important?

  • The Temperature Danger Zone is the range of temperature between 41o F and 135o F (5o C and 57o C). TCS foods should be kept at either 41o F or colder, or at 135o F or higher.
  • The TDZ is important to food safety because we know that bacteria can rapidly multiply in that temperature range. Two bacterial cells become four, then four become sixteen, sixteen become 32 and so on. In a short amount of time, the pathogens can reproduce to levels that can cause illness.
  • To keep food safe, time in the TDZ must be kept to a minimum. Food should spend no more than 4 hours in the TDZ over the lifetime of that food and any time spent in the TDZ is cumulative.
  • Consider that the food in your operation might pass through many stages such as delivery, storage, preparation, cooking, cooling, reheating and service.


How to Manage the Temperature Danger Zone?

In order to stay on top of food temperatures in your operation, make sure your employees know and understand the Temperature Danger Zone. Require them to share in the responsibility of monitoring and maintaining proper food temperatures. 


  • Use thermometers throughout your operation and check temperatures of foods at all stages (receiving, storage, during prep, cooking, hot holding, reheating, etc.).
  • Be sure that employees know how to take food temperatures.
  • Discuss corrective actions with your employees so they know what to do if they find a food in the Temperature Danger Zone.
  • Consider keeping temperature logs - a good way to document the temperatures being taken. 
  • If foods have been in the TDZ for four hours or more it is best to discard them.


How to Where to Find More Information?

As always, the information provided here is just a general guideline.  The Temperature Danger Zone in your area may be different. Always consult with your local Regulatory Authority to learn what the requirements are in your area.  If you want to learn more about controlling the growth of bacteria and the importance of maintaining proper food temperatures, consider taking a class and becoming certified in Food Protection Management. Check with your Regulatory Authority to find Food Protection Management classes in your area.  

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