Some foods grow bacteria more easily and quickly than other foods. These foods are known as time/temperature control for safety (TCS) foods because they require certain time and temperature controls to prevent unsafe bacteria growth. These foods are sometimes called potentially hazardous foods (PHFs) because they become hazardous if their bacteria growth is not controlled.
Some of the most common TCS foods include the following:
- Meat products
- Fish and shellfish
- Cream or custard
- Cooked vegetables
- Potato dishes
- Protein-rich plants
- Raw sprouts
- Cut leafy greens
- Cut garlic in oil
- Sliced melons and tomatoes
Why TCS Foods Can Be Dangerous
Bacteria need just three things to grow: food, moisture, and warmth. Small amounts of bacteria growth in TCS food are not a problem, but too much can cause foodborne illness. TCS foods have the nutrients and moisture bacteria need to grow. Add time and warmth to the mix, and these foods can become bacterial breeding grounds.
Time is an important part of bacteria growth. When bacteria have food, warmth, and moisture, their numbers can double every twenty minutes. After four hours, most TCS foods will have a high enough bacteria count that they become dangerous to eat.
The temperature of TCS foods can also encourage bacteria growth. The temperature range between 41° and 135° Fahrenheit creates conditions for rapid bacteria growth. This temperature range is so well suited for bacteria that it’s called the temperature danger zone. TCS foods in the temperature danger zone will grow bacteria quickly and can easily become hazardous.
How to Keep TCS Foods Safe
In restaurant service, the two most common ways of controlling bacteria growth are time and temperature controls.
TCS foods that are ready-to-eat can be safely consumed in a four hour window. If they have not been temperature controlled, they should be discarded after four hours. Hot held and cold held foods can be served for four hours without temperature controls if they are discarded after the four-hour time limit.
To prevent dangerous growth, TCS foods are kept out of the temperature danger zone or moved through it quickly. Food temperatures are controlled with freezing, refrigeration, or holding. Food is refrigerated or frozen until it is prepared for service. If needed, cooked TCS foods can be safely cooled for later use by using the two-step cooling method. Ready-to-eat TCS dishes can be hot held above 135° or cold held below 41° Fahrenheit.
These methods of time and temperature control effectively prevent bacteria growth. With good controls, bacterial growth can be limited and TCS foods kept safe.
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