Cooling food in a restaurant so people don’t barf

Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that improper cooling practices contributed to more than 500 foodborne illness outbreaks associated with restaurants or delis in the United States between 1998 and 2008.

sitting.iceCDC’s Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net) personnel collected data in approximately 50 randomly selected restaurants in nine EHS-Net sites in 2009 to 2010 and measured the temperatures of cooling food at the beginning and the end of the observation period. Those beginning and ending points were used to estimate cooling rates. The most common cooling method was refrigeration, used in 48% of cooling steps. Other cooling methods included ice baths (19%), room-temperature cooling (17%), ice-wand cooling (7%), and adding ice or frozen food to the cooling food as an ingredient (2%).

Sixty-five percent of cooling observations had an estimated cooling rate that was compliant with the 2009 Food and Drug Administration Food Code guideline (cooling to 41°F [5°C] in 6 h). Large cuts of meat and stews had the slowest overall estimated cooling rate, approximately equal to that specified in the Food Code guideline. Pasta and noodles were the fastest cooling foods, with a cooling time of just over 2 h. Foods not being actively monitored by food workers were more than twice as likely to cool more slowly than recommended in the Food Code guideline. Food stored at a depth greater than 7.6 cm (3 in.) was twice as likely to cool more slowly than specified in the Food Code guideline. Unventilated cooling foods were almost twice as likely to cool more slowly than specified in the Food Code guideline.

Our data suggest that several best cooling practices can contribute to a proper cooling process. Inspectors unable to assess the full cooling process should consider assessing specific cooling practices as an alternative. Future research could validate our estimation method and study the effect of specific practices on the full cooling process. 

Quantitative data analysis to determine best food cooling practices in U.S. restaurants

Journal of Food Protection®, Number 4, April 2015, pp. 636-858, pp. 778-783(6)

Schaffner, Donald W.; Brown, Laura Green; Ripley, Danny; Reimann, Dave; Koktavy, Nicole; Blade, Henry; Nicholas, David


Clostridium in holiday meal sickens 34 in Thunder Bay

The Slovak Legion in Thunder Bay, Ontario (that’s in Canada, and it’s cold) hosted a Christmas meal on Dec. 14, 2010; at least 34 diners ended up barfing.

Clostridium prefringens (that’s perfringens – dp) has been identified as the bacteria that caused the illnesses. It was found in the cooked turkey sample and stool samples that were submitted for testing.

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit notes almost all food-related outbreaks of C. perfringens are associated with inadequately cooled or reheated meals such as turkey dinners. Outbreaks are usually traced to large-scale food premises.

To prevent food-related illness:
• Educate food handlers on correct food safety practices
• Serve meat dishes hot, or as soon as they are cooked
• Do not partially cook meat and poultry one day and reheat the next
• Divide large amounts of food into smaller containers to allow rapid cooling

Try out our holiday meal food safety infosheet at


Fancy restaurant didn’t know how to cool food; three sickened

In one of the lamest food safety excuses ever tabled, defence lawyer Adrian Gundelach told the Brisbane Magistrates Court yesterday — with a straight face — that Harem Restaurant, routinely left dishes out to cool at room temperature for eight hours, stating,

"It was something that my clients couldn’t have foreseen. They’d been following a practice that they’ve been following since the day the restaurant opened."

That practice led to three people barfing up Clostridium perfringens after dining at the upscale Brisbane eatery in July. An additional 16 people at the function also reported symptoms, but were not confirmed after failing to return health sample kits to Queensland Health.

The Harem restaurant in Brisbane, Australia, is listed in the Best Restaurants Guide of Australia as follows:

"Be an Ottoman prince for the evening: sit on sumptuous cushions shrouded by curtains, feast on finger food and enjoy a night of belly-shaking. There’s no confusion as to what type of restaurant Harem is; the dining room is a riot of handmade rugs, multi-coloured tablecloths, brass lamps and cushions, all imported from Turkey, and the carpeted floorspace is patrolled by fez-hatted wait staff."

The judge wasn’t amused and fined the restaurant $20,000.

The restaurant has since changed its cooling techniques.

Pay more attention to food safety basics and less food pornography.