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Stand-Up Training: Holding Food Safely

Chef checks the temperature of hot-held soup in a buffet

Empower Employees Through Food Safety Training

Some food may not be served to customers right away. Instead, it’s kept hot or chilled, waiting for a customer to buy it or a food worker to use it. Other times, food may be held for a short time without any temperature control. It’s important to teach employees how to hold food safely to help prevent foodborne illness.

Learning Objectives

You may choose to read these learning objectives with your employees as a part of the stand-up training.

After this training, employees should be able to:

  • Demonstrate how to cook or reheat food for hot-holding
  • Identify the proper internal temperature for hot- and cold-held foods
  • Recognize the appropriate equipment for holding food
  • Maintain the proper temperature of held food by frequently checking the internal temperature
  • Demonstrate how to properly add fresh food to holding equipment
  • Recognize when held food should be thrown away

The Facts

You may choose to read these facts with your employees as a part of the stand-up training.

  • Leftover food must be reheated to 165°F (74°C) if it will be hot-held, no matter what kind of food it is.
  • Fresh food that’s intended for hot-holding must be cooked to proper temperatures.
  • To prevent bacteria from growing to dangerous levels, hot- and cold-held foods need to be kept at a temperature outside the danger zone:
    • Hot-held food must stay at or above 135°F (57°C).
    • Cold-held food must stay at or below 41°F (5°C).
  • Only use holding equipment to hold food. Holding equipment is designed to maintain even temperatures for long periods of time.
  • Don’t rely on the equipment temperature gauges alone. Check the temperature of food regularly with a food thermometer, and write it down in a temperature log.
  • Stir held food regularly to help distribute the heat evenly.
  • Never mix freshly prepared food with food that is being held. Instead, replace the entire item to prevent inaccurate temperature readings and cross-contamination.
  • Hot- and cold-held food should be thrown out when it reaches its use-by date. Use-by dates are typically seven days from the date food was first opened or prepared.
  • If food is intentionally left out without temperature control, discard it after four hours.

Training Activities

Choose the activities that will be most beneficial for your employees. Modify them as needed to fit the training needs of your establishment.

Explain It to Me

Ask: Ask an employee to explain the proper way to reheat or cook food for hot-holding. Follow the steps they describe exactly. (You should determine beforehand whether to test their knowledge of reheating food for hot-holding or cooking food for hot-holding. Don’t try to test both in the same activity.)

Discuss: What temperature does leftover food need to reach when we reheat it for hot holding? What temperature does fresh food need to reach?

Display (optional): Hang up the Reheating Food Process Poster and the Cooking Times and Temperatures Poster to remind your employees how to safely prepare food for hot holding.

Temperature Demonstration

Demonstrate: Ask an experienced employee to demonstrate how to take the temperature of held food, or demonstrate it yourself. The employee should also demonstrate how to record the temperature on a Holding Time and Temperature Log.

Quiz: What temperature should hot-held food be to prevent bacterial growth? What temperature should cold-held food be?

Display: Use a Holding Time and Temperature Log to help your employees remember to check the temperature of held food regularly. It can also be helpful to have temperature records of held food to show health inspectors.

Bringing Out Fresh Food

Discuss: Why should we never mix fresh food with food that’s already being held? How can we avoid cross-contamination when we bring out fresh food?

Hot Holding in Real Life

Watch: Watch the Food Safety in Real Life video “Botulism in Nacho Cheese.”

Discuss: What caused the nacho cheese to become contaminated? What can we do in our establishment to keep held food safe? Make sure your discussion covers at least these points:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to use holding equipment properly.
  • Throw out any food that’s reached its use-by date.
  • Regularly check food temperature to make sure it stays safe the entire time it’s being held.

Following Up

The FDA Food Code recommends health inspectors check to make sure your employees are doing a few main things related to holding food:

  • Properly reheating food for hot-holding
  • Properly cooking food that’s meant for hot-holding
  • Maintaining hot- and cold-held food at correct temperatures
  • Discarding food that does not have temperature control after four hours

Inspectors will also watch to see if you have the proper equipment for holding food. They may also ask food workers to explain the processes they follow to hold food.

Help your employees prepare for your next health inspection by quizzing them from time to time about how to hold food safely. Observe them while they work and, as necessary, give them ideas for how they can improve.

As needed, review this training with your employees.

Training Resources

The Cooking Times and Temperatures Poster will remind your employees of the FDA’s recommended cooking temperatures for different types of food.

Post the Reheating Food Process Poster in your establishment as a reminder of how to safely reheat food for hot holding.

Help your employees remember to check the temperature of held food by asking them to fill out how a Holding Time and Temperature Log.

The Botulism in Nacho Cheese video will help your employees understand why it’s important to monitor the temperature and use-by date of held food. Spanish subtitles are available in the video settings.

Did you use this stand-up training in your establishment? We’d love to get your feedback! Take a minute to do our feedback survey.

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— Jessica Pettit

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