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Stand-Up Training: How to Protect TCS Food from Bacteria

TCS food is more susceptible to bacterial growth. Take steps to control its temperature to protect it from bacterial growth.

Empower Employees Through Food Safety Training

Some food, known as Time/temperature Control for Safety (TCS) food, is more susceptible to bacterial growth. To keep TCS food safe, you must actively control their temperature.

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 will be able to:

  • List the TCS food used regularly in your establishment
  • Recognize the factors that increase bacteria’s ability to grow in TCS food
  • Describe ways to prevent bacterial growth
  • Monitor critical control points to stop bacteria from multiplying

The Facts

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

  • In general, bacteria need three things to grow: food (such as sugar or protein), moisture, and warmth.
  • Food items that have high levels of sugar or protein and are also moist are known as TCS food. Some common TCS foods are:
    • Dairy products
    • Meat products
    • Cooked vegetables
    • Sliced melons and tomatoes
    • Cut leafy greens
  • TCS stands for Time/temperature Control for Safety. The name is a reminder to carefully control the temperature of TCS food, or to control how long a TCS food spends in the Temperature Danger Zone.
  • The Temperature Danger Zone ranges from 41°F to 135°F (5°C–57°C). Bacteria multiply fastest on food that is in this zone.
  • If TCS food stays in the Temperature Danger Zone for four hours or more, bacteria will grow to dangerous levels, and not even cooking will make the food safe to eat. This food must be thrown away.
  • A critical control point is a step in the food process where food could potentially become contaminated. We need to be aware of these points in our process so that we can prevent bacteria from multiplying to dangerous levels. Some common actions that bring TCS food into the Temperature Danger Zone are:
    • Reheating
    • Cooking
    • Cooling

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.

TCS Food Identification Challenge

Discuss: What is a TCS food?

Challenge: Hand out sheets of paper and writing utensils to each of your employees. Challenge them to write down as many TCS food items they can think of in one minute. Set a timer. After the minute is up, have your employees take turns reading the items on their list. If anyone wrote down the same food item, they must cross it off their list. Whoever thought of the most unique TCS food items wins the game.

Make connections: As your employees read their lists, make sure to point out the TCS food that you use regularly in your establishment.

Display (optional): Hang up the TCS Foods poster in your establishment to remind your employees of common TCS foods.

Protecting TCS Food

Discuss: What makes a food TCS? Make sure your employees mention that TCS food typically has high levels of sugar or protein and high levels of moisture.

Illustrate: Write down the characteristics of TCS food where everyone can see. Next, ask what bacteria need to grow (sugar or protein, moisture, and warmth) and write those next to the first list. Connect the characteristics that are the same. Point out that you can’t always control TCS foods’ sugar/protein levels or moisture, but you can always control their temperature.

Ask: What are some ways we can prevent bacterial growth? Examples could include:

  • Use a stove, microwave, or oven to reheat food quickly
  • Cook food to the FDA’s recommended cooking temperatures
  • Use the two-step cooling process to cool leftover food safely
  • Monitor the temperature of hot- or cold-held food items to make sure they stay out of the Temperature Danger Zone
  • Store food in the fridge or freezer when not in use

Display (optional): Download and print the Reheating Food Process Poster, the Cooking Times and Temperatures Poster, and the Two-Step Cooling Process Poster and post them in your establishment. The posters will help your employees remember what they need to do during these critical control points to protect TCS food.

Following Up

Controlling the temperature of TCS food is so important that it has its own section on the FDA’s sample health inspection form. Health inspectors who come to your establishment will be watching to see if your employees

  • Cook food to proper temperatures
  • Reheat food safely
  • Cool food safely
  • Monitor the temperatures of hot- and cold-held food items

Inspectors may also ask food workers to explain the steps they follow to cook, reheat, cool, or hold food.

You can help your employees feel more comfortable during an inspection by holding practice inspections. Observe them as they work and give them tips for how they can better protect TCS food. Quiz them from time to time about the proper way to cook, reheat, cool, or hold food.

As needed, review this training with your employees.

Training Resources

The TCS Foods Poster will help your employees remember what TCS foods are and how to keep them safe.

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

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

Help your employees remember how to cool food safely by displaying the Two-Stage Cooling Process Poster.

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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