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Using a crockpot to hold food


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My group at work is having a potluck/secret Santa deal next Friday (the 21st). It will be at lunch time, and since it's a typical office environment, the options for heating/reheating the food are limited to gross (very. gross.) and under-powered microwaves. 2 of them for a company with 175 employees, so you know the access to them is limited, to say the least.

I'm planning on making a chicken/andouille gumbo. I'll make the gumbo the night before, and take it in for the potluck, along with the rice. I would *love* to avoid the whole microwave scene (did I mention they're really disgusting?) for reheating the gumbo.

What I'd like to do is this: make the gumbo as usual, on Thursday, and cool it down. Stash it in my fridge overnight, in the crock insert to my crockpot. Take the whole deal into the office on Friday morning, plug it in on low when I get there and have hot gumbo by lunch. We could reheat the rice if needed in the microwaves.

My question (and fear) is that by reheating the gumbo in the crockpot, I'll be cookin' up a mess 'o' gastrointestinal distress for my office-mates. Will the food be safe if I do this, or should I just keep it chilled, dish up the individual servings, and let people do the nuke routine to reheat?

Thanks in advance.........

--Roberta--

"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley

Pierogi's eG Foodblog

My *outside* blog, "A Pound Of Yeast"

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My group at work is having a potluck/secret Santa deal next Friday (the 21st).  It will be at lunch time, and since it's a typical office environment, the options for heating/reheating the food are limited to gross (very. gross.) and under-powered microwaves.  2 of them for a company with 175 employees, so you know the access to them is limited, to say the least.

I'm planning on making a chicken/andouille gumbo.  I'll make the gumbo the night before, and take it in for the potluck, along with the rice.  I would *love* to avoid the whole microwave scene (did I mention they're really disgusting?) for reheating the gumbo.

What I'd like to do is this:  make the gumbo as usual, on Thursday, and cool it down.  Stash it in my fridge overnight, in the crock insert to my crockpot.  Take the whole deal into the office on Friday morning, plug it in on low when I get there and have hot gumbo by lunch.  We could reheat the rice if needed in the microwaves.

My question (and fear) is that by reheating the gumbo in the crockpot, I'll be cookin' up a mess 'o' gastrointestinal distress for my office-mates.  Will the food be safe if I do this, or should I just keep it chilled, dish up the individual servings, and let people do the nuke routine to reheat?

Thanks in advance.........

I love gumbo too, but as you suspect, reheating chilled gumbo in a slow cooker is a recipe for food poisoning. If it did get hot enough, it might overcook and break down in the reheating.

Choose something easier, more practical and safer.

Buen provecho, Panosmex
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The crock pot plan is a bad idea from a food safety perspective!

What about borrowing a couple of electric skillets? With these you can quickly re-heat without that long rest in the danger zone.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

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Not knowing exactly how gross the microwaves are at your workplace, I think you'd be okay if you could nuke the gumbo in batches to bring it to the correct temperature and then transfer to the crockpot to hold it.

However, I think you are overlooking one very important point here: No one but you is going to be considering food safety rules. Plan on eating only what you brought.

Not trying to be a downer, just a realist. Having been to my fair share of work potlucks, this is always my concern as well.

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In food service settings, reheated food needs to be brought up to a minimum temperature of 165' F and held above 140 ' F for up to 2 hours.

If you reheat in the microwave so that the gumbo is that temperature after stirring throughly (including the pieces of meat that are in it) and then maintain the right temperature in the slow cooker (depending on what yours is) then you are a dedicated colleague!

Sorry for the grungy microwaves at work. Personally, I love the steam-and-wipe technique for when my soup has exploded.... and crusted. :hmmm:

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A crockpot on low is usually 200 degrees and 300 on high. Could you heat up the food at home - keep warm in the car (store in a cooler wraped in a towel), and plug in the crockpot when you get to work?

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Two ideas:

You could not bother bringing food, but clean the microwaves as your contribution!

But, one of the things I bought a couple of years ago was a single burner -- you can get propane or electric, and the thing has been wonderful to have around -- not only have I used it for office potlucks, but for gatherings at home when I don't seem to have enough burners or room in my kitchen. I think it was $11.99 at Bed, Bath and Beyond (before the 20% off coupon).

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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A crockpot on low is usually 200 degrees and 300 on high. Could you heat up the food at home - keep warm in the car (store in a cooler wraped in a towel), and plug in the crockpot when you get to work?

My crockpot instructions say that the "buffet" setting is 165, the "low" is 185 and the "high" setting is 213. I do know that only on high will chili / soup / etc. actually come to a boil.

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A crockpot on low is usually 200 degrees and 300 on high. Could you heat up the food at home - keep warm in the car (store in a cooler wraped in a towel), and plug in the crockpot when you get to work?

This is similar to what I thought... Don't bother pre-making and cooling the gumbo, but if you know how to make it in a crock pot, than do so up to the point where you are going to leave for work, wrap it in a towel, and plug it right back in when you arrive. I would seriously doubt that anything harmful enough to disturb anyone could grow in the limited time it would cool (as it will hold its heat for far longer than you can consider!).

Don't worry about it!

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Jesus, people are way too paranoid about food safety these days. There's 2 risks you need to watch out for: Bad microbes in the food and toxic byproducts from said microbes. Now the crockpot is going to bring everything up to 165F so you don't need to worry about any microbes still surviving the cooking process, all you need to worry about is that any extant microbes won't reproduce enough to leave toxic byproducts. And it's hard to see how they could in such a short span of time unless you smear raw chicken juice over everything in the morning.

Think about it this way, you cook a batch of soup and serve the entire family. Do you immediately split the soup into serving size containers and chill before you even start eating? no, you let it linger in the pot for 3, 4, 6 hours, maybe even overnight. And it's not just you, billions of people around the world do this and have been doing this for thousands of years.

If you want to be double super certain, then you're best bet is to try and minimize any initial microbial colonies so here's what you should do: Finish at least the last half hour of cooking the gumbo in the crockpot and do not remove the lid. You've now created a sterile environment. Tape the lid shut firmly against the pot and stash the entire crockpot in the fridge overnight. Heat up the thing the next day and only untape the lid half an hour before serving to check seasonings etc. By doing this, you've minimised any microbial contamination and I guarentee you're food will be completely safe.

PS: I am a guy.

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Doesn't matter, there'll be enough dishes there that nobody will be able to pin it on you.

I really don't think that it's going to be a problem however - as long as it's not sitting around for hours and hours you'll be fine.

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I think you'll be fine too--my advice would be to make sure that you chill it quickly the night before. don't let it sit out on the counter for hours or go into the fridge while still hot. Otherwise you should be fine.

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In food service settings, reheated food needs to be brought up to a minimum temperature of 165' F and held above 140 ' F for up to 2 hours.

If you reheat in the microwave so that the gumbo is that temperature after stirring throughly (including the pieces of meat that are in it) and then maintain the right temperature in the slow cooker (depending on what yours is) then you are a dedicated colleague!

Sorry for the grungy microwaves at work. Personally, I love the steam-and-wipe technique for when my soup has exploded.... and crusted.  :hmmm:

In response to the post which said that a crock pot has two temperature settings:

Sorry, but crockpots don't have thermostats, and depend on the amount of food inside to limit the temperature. Thus, if you overload the pot (really tough to do) it will take a much longer time to reach the same temp than if you had put in, say, half the recipe amount which might be suggested by the pot's maker. The ultimate limit on temp is the boiling point of water. None of the pots have heaters large enough to boil away all the water in the recipes suggested by the manuals which come with the pots, in a typical time frame, like eight hours or so. Thus, none would ever reach 300 degrees. Also, none will hold at a specific temp which the user might want, unless the user had made many batches of the same recipe and knew what the pot's performance was for that dish only.

How do I know this? I took apart several in my quest for a crock pot which WOULD hold a specific temp, and could find none which have thermostatats; the thermo's just cost too much for the makers to compete with the ones which don't have them. There si a Hamilton Beach unit I saw at Target which has a probe which goes through a hole in the lid to tell YOU what the temp is, in which case YOU become the thermostat.

In connection with this thread posted, the pot would take too long to reach a safe temp, since it would not work (like a home furnace) by cycling on and off until it reached the temp one wanted.

Ray

Edited by ray goud (log)
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Don't sweat it. At various potlucks at work I've eaten 1) meatballs 2) chili 3) L'il Smokies in that grape jelly sauce 4)Italian Wedding Soup 5) Sloppy Joes 6)"BBQ Beef" 7) Chicago Italian beef -- and that's for starters. If I tried I could get to 20. They were all heated from a cold start in the crock pot for lunchtime delectation. Not only has no one died, no one has even suffered a tummy wobble.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

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1912-2008

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1000s fed, no one dead (from the food)

What's the difference (in the food safety sense) between taking food from the fridge to head in the crockpot, and actually MAKING the food in the crockpot?

If one was to follow the cooking instructions for crockpot recipes, most of the ingredients come out of the fridge and into the crockpot. So, why is taking pre-cooked food to reheat in the crockpot any different?

My only concern would be the quick cooling of the food at the initial cooking. Maybe a bag/container of ice inserted into the partially cooled food would hasten the cooling (and reduce the amount of time the food stays in the thermal "danger zone". I have been known to use a dishwasher safe plastic container full of water, frozen ahead of time.

Karen Dar Woon

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THANK YOU ALL !! You all really have confirmed what I was thinking......especially the latter posters.

Thinking about it, I have made plenty of crockpot dishes where I took the crock straight out of the fridge, with ingredients in it, and set it on low, to come up to temp very slowly. And I'm still here, and healthy.

What I was *planning* on doing, and didn't post initially because I was brain dead, was to make the gumbo, chill it down quick (get it OUT of that Le Cruset ASAP....) and then reheat it in the morning before I leave. Warm the crock, dump the gumbo in, wrap it, and plug that baby in as soon as I get to the office. I think I should be OK, I don't think it'll be in the danger zone long at all, and it will all be cooked at that point. And since I'm not using anything really dicey like seafood, it should be fine.

However. If y'all hear of a mass gastroinestinal distress outbreak in or around south-central LA............

IT WASN'T ME ! :wink:

ETA: And BTW, Snowangel, there is not enough money IN THE WORLD to get me to touch, let alone clean, those microwaves. Unless I was in Level 1 biohazard gear, and they were going straight to de-con. :wacko:

Edited by Pierogi (log)

--Roberta--

"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley

Pierogi's eG Foodblog

My *outside* blog, "A Pound Of Yeast"

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Hey Pierogi, I've done this dozens of times (with gumbo, too), and I have never poisoned anyone. Not to downplay food safety concerns, but the slow heat of the crockpot will reheat the gumbo just fine, given sufficient time to bring it up to the proper temp. My advice: 1)make sure you chill it quickly the night before to ensure that you don't inadvertently incubate a big ol' crop of bacteria and 2)start heating the gumbo (on the high setting) first thing in the AM when you get to work. It can take 2-4 hours for a 6-quart slow cooker to reach a food safe temp; nothing worse than your dish still being cold when everyone is ready to chow down. And if the gumbo reaches a boil, even better; you can turn it down to the low setting.

I served seafood gumbo to my extended family at last year's family reunion, made in advance & reheated in a couple of slow cookers. Nobody got sick, and we even froze the leftovers (and nobody got sick from those, either).

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My concern is that the crock pot wouldn't get it warm enough. I don't think there's a food safety issue. But the crock full of cold liquidy gumbo has a big thermal mass and heating that up would take a long time. I suspect more time than the four hours you have.

I would at least start it on high for an hour or so and then switch to low. Or perhaps heat it up a bit in the microwaves first to give it a head start. The microwaves won't be busy at 8am.

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