What is the Danger Zone for Food?

/ Foodservice Tips, Restaurant Tips / May 21

When operating a commercial kitchen in a restaurant, cafeteria, QSR and beyond, one of the most vital responsibilities is ensuring and guaranteeing food safety for diners. One way to keep your customers happy and healthy is to avoid certain food to reach what’s known as the “danger zone.” The danger zone is a temperature range that, when food reaches this point, it becomes more and more unsafe to consume. However, there are simple and easy ways to make sure that food remains safe to eat and your commercial kitchen remains within health code guidelines.

Learn more about what the danger zone is, what kinds of food it affects and how to avoid reaching the danger zone.

What is the Danger Zone Temperature Range for Food?

Danger Zone Temperature Chart-What is the Danger Zone for Food?

The danger zone ranges from between 40° F-140° F. One of the simplest ways for food to reach the danger zone is from improper refrigeration or cooking, or simply being left out at room temperature for too long.

Why is it Dangerous?

Allowing food to reach the danger zone can have serious consequences, as bacteria like E.coli and Staphylococcus can begin to grow between that temperature range. Since the spread of bacteria cannot be easily detected, it’s important to keep your food at a safe temperature range both when it’s refrigerated and when it’s cooked.

How to Prevent Food from Reaching the Danger Zone

Whether you’re storing, cooking, or holding food, it’s crucial to maintain safe temperature levels that are appropriate for the food item. Keeping food at these safe temperatures not only keeps your guests healthy, but also keeps you well within sate and federal health code regulations. Additionally, training your employees about maintaining proper food temperatures and food safety regulations ensures that no stone isn’t turned in your commercial kitchen.

Storing Food

Food should be stored at temperatures between 40° F-0° F. Be sure to regularly check and record the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer, and follow the FIFO rule when stocking and restocking food items. If there are issues with maintaining your refrigerator or freezer, be sure to contact a certified service technician.

Cooking Food

When preparing food, it’s important that its internal temperature reaches the proper level. The rule of thumb for cooking is to allow the food product to reach its proper temperature within 2 hours. Per USDA recommendation, here are the safe minimum internal temperatures for meat, ham, poultry, eggs, fish/shellfish and casseroles.

Food Product

Minimum Internal Temperature

Cuts of Meat (Pork, Veal, Beef, Lamb)

145° F (62.8° C)—Rest for at least 3 minutes

Ground Meat

160 ° F (71.1 ° C)

Ground Poultry

165 ° F (73.9 ° C)

Ham (Uncooked)

145 °F (62.8 °C)—Rest for at least 3 minutes

Fully Cooked Ham (Reheating)

Reheat cooked hams to 140 ° F (60 ° C) and all others to 165 ° F (73.9 ° C)

Poultry (All Parts)

165 ° F (73.9 ° C)


160 ° F (71.1 ° C)

Fish and Shellfish

145 ° F (62.8 ° C)


165 °F (73.9 °C)

It’s important to note that, when cooking meat to a customer’s specification (i.e. rare to well done), rare and medium-rare meat are cooked to under the recommended 140° F internal temperature. Because of this, many restaurants and commercial kitchens won’t offer these as options.

Holding Cold and Hot Food at a Safe Temperature

Whether to food has already been cooked or needs to remain steadily cool, holding food items at their appropriate temperatures will keep them safe to consume. Here is how to safely hold both hot and cold foods:

  • Holding Hot Food

    • Cover food to help maintain internal temperatures.

    • Hold at the appropriate temperature (140° F or higher). Remember: holding equipment is designed to maintain temperatures rather than cook food.

    • Monitor food temperatures often.

    • Stir food to keep heat evenly distributed.

    • Do not mix freshly-prepared food product with any food that’s currently being held.

    • If food has been held at a temperature below 140° F for more than 2 hours, discard.

  • Holding Cold Food

    • Cover food when holding.

    • Hold at the appropriate temperature (40° F or lower).

    • Cold food has a 6-hour holding threshold from the time it was initially removed from refrigeration.

    • Do not place food directly onto ice as it poses the threat of bacteria growth and cross-contamination. The exceptions to this rule include certain shellfish, fruits and vegetables.

    • Regularly check cold foods every 2 hours. If the food product reaches 70° F or higher, discard immediately.

Knowing how to properly hold food—whether it’s hot or cold—is especially vital for to-go or delivery services, so be sure to keep these in mind if your restaurant offers such services.

For more information on food safety, be sure to check with your local state regulations, keep updated on the latest federal mandates and check out our health department checklist.

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