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    What’s Slow is New Again: Tips for Safe and Healthy Slow Cooker

    By Diane Quagliani
    Retail dietitians can recommend easy, healthful slow cooker recipes.

    Slow cookers are making a comeback in today’s kitchens thanks to consumer interest in convenience paired with freshly prepared meals, says The NPD Group, a leading global information company.

    Most homes (81 percent) already own a slow cooker and sales of new cookers are heating up. In the 12 months ending June 2015, 12.6 million slow cookers were sold and dollar sales reached $334.1 million, up 4 percent from same period a year ago, according to NPD’s Consumer Tracking Service.

    The slow cooker is ideal for preparing nutritious dishes loaded with vegetables, beans and whole grains. The long, slow cooking process helps tenderize lean (and less expensive) cuts of meat. And a delicious dinner waiting at home helps busy families sit down together to enjoy the meal.

    Lead your customers to slow cooker success by sharing these tips from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service:

    Get a clean start. Begin with a clean cooker, utensils and work area. Wash your hands before, during and after food preparation.

    Let foods chill. Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time. If you cut up meat and vegetables in advance, store them separately in the refrigerator. The slow cooker may take several hours to reach a safe, bacteria-killing temperature. Constant refrigeration assures that bacteria, which multiply rapidly at room temperature, won't get a "head start" during the first few hours of cooking.

    Thaw ingredients. Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. Choose to make foods with a high moisture content such as chili, soup, stew or spaghetti sauce. If using a commercially frozen slow cooker meal, prepare according to manufacturer's instructions.

    Add foods in the best order. Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry in a slow cooker so put the vegetables in first. Then add the meat and desired amount of liquid suggested in the recipe, such as broth, water or barbecue sauce. Keep the lid in place, removing only to stir the food or check for doneness.

    Fill it just right. Don’t fill the cooker too much or too little. Cookers come in several sizes, so check your recipe for the right size cooker to use.

    Consider your settings. Most cookers have two or more settings. Foods take different times to cook depending upon the setting used. Obviously, foods will cook faster on high than on low. However, for all-day cooking or for less-tender cuts, you may want to use the low setting.

    If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe. However, it's safe to cook foods on low the entire time—if you're leaving for work, for example, and preparation time is limited. Make sure the cooker is plugged in and turned on!

    While food is cooking and once it's done, it will stay safe as long as the cooker is operating.

    Did the power go out? Don’t panic. Here’s what to do:

    • If you’re not home during the entire slow-cooking process and the power goes out, throw away the food, even if it looks done.
    • If you are home, finish cooking the ingredients immediately by some other means: on a gas stove, on the outdoor grill or at a house where the power is on.
    • When you are home, and if the food was completely cooked before the power went out, the food should remain safe up to two hours in the cooker with the power off.

    Handle leftovers with care. Store leftovers in shallow covered containers and refrigerate within two hours after cooking is finished. Don’t reheat leftovers in the slow cooker. Instead, reheat them on the stove, in a microwave, or in a conventional oven until they reach 165°F. You can then place the hot food in a preheated slow cooker to keep the food hot for serving—at least 140°F as measured with a food thermometer.

    Read more about the surge in slow cooker popularity.


    By Diane Quagliani
    • About Diane Quagliani Registered dietitian Diane Quagliani specializes in nutrition communications for consumer and health professional audiences. She has assisted national retailers and CPGs with nutrition strategy, web content development, trade show exhibiting and creation and implementation of shelf tag programs. She’s written extensively for major consumer publications including Better Homes and Gardens, the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

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