There are two reasons I’m thinking about slow cookers today. Number one is that we had a slow-cooker lesson yesterday in my office. Number two is that just finished up a weekend of freezer cooking. As I have searched the internet for ideas of meals/dishes to cook up for my freezer, I have been rather shocked at the unsafe things I have seen. It seems that freezer cooking is pretty trendy right now, and I want to help all of you to keep your families safe when you do this.
The first offense I want to cover is “dump cooking.” I have seen this a lot. It is where you prep/chop your veggies, prepare a marinade and then dump the veggies, marinade and chicken into a zip-top baggie to freeze later. I realize that all of these items are going to be cooked together in one slow-cooker pot, but this storage method is worrisome to me. Raw meat should never be stored with raw vegetables.
The next thing I have noticed that really makes me cringe is the idea that you can take your “dump” bag from the freezer and put it directly into your slow cooker. These things need to be thawed for a day or two in the fridge before you try to cook them in a slow cooker. Slow cookers heat slowly. That’s why they’re called slow cookers. When they heat slowly, that means that frozen foods will most likely be left too long in the “danger zone.” The danger zone is the temperature range between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. This zone is where bacteria thrive and grow the fastest. Once food has been in the danger zone for two hours, it’s probably too far gone to be safe. So, even if the food reaches a safe temperature (which it may not if it was frozen going in) it still won’t be safe.
Another unsafe practice is not using enough liquid. Having ample liquid in your slow cooker will help to make sure that everything cooks evenly. Liquid is a great conductor of heat, so if you use liquid is important to make sure that your meats are cooked thoroughly.
The third thing to remember is cooking times. When I use my slow-cooker, I usually put the food in before I go to work and let it go all day. Some dishes can hold up to this long cooking time, others cannot. But it is important to make sure that the food cooks long enough. Most things need to cook 4-6 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low. Be sure to follow a good recipe.
Just remember: only put in thawed ingredients, store raw meats and veggies separately, and always use a liquid in the cooking process!