Crock-Pots, along with other slow-cookers, have fast become household favourites due to their simple cooking processes — but sometimes taking kitchen shortcuts have their ramifications.
The internet is filled with slow-cook recipes that start with frozen poultry, for instance, but the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says tossing a frozen chicken into the slow cooker isn’t a good idea.
As we know, eating undercooked chicken can prove harmful because of microorganisms such as Salmonella, which live in the flesh and can cause food-borne illnesses.
“Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker,” reads the Slow Cooker and Food Safety guidelines from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service — a warning that protects against undercooked poultry.
If this preparation method is news to you, you’re not alone — despite the potential danger, Crock-Pots don’t list the risk on their labels.
Contrary to the USDA’s guidelines, a Crock-Pot rep told TODAY: “You can cook frozen meat in any Crock-Pot brand product,” but suggested cook time may need to be increased.
The company recommends using a meat thermometer to ensure that the internal temperature of the chicken is “well above” 165 degrees before consumption, adding, “We recommend that you refer to your product’s instruction manual as well for specific instructions and guidance.”
Kitchenware manufacturers Instant Pot agree. When asked if it was OK to cook frozen chicken in an Instant Pot, a company customer service rep said the practice is definitely safe as long as you add an additional five minutes to the cooking time.
So who do we believe? Turns out food experts have differing opinions. The National Chicken Council, says “it is entirely safe to prepare frozen chicken in a slow cooker or Crock-Pot as long are you are familiar with the make and model of the device.”
“It is safe to cook a frozen chicken in a slow cooker,” Quin Patton, a food scientist formerly with PepsiCo, said. “You just need to make sure the internal temperature gets up to 165 degrees at some point during the cooking process.”
However, other experts say it’s the fact that the chicken doesn’t heat up to a safe temperature quickly enough that’s the problem — if it spends too much time thawing in the “danger zone” it can cause major problems.
“The danger zone is defined as the temperature range between 40 degrees and 140 degrees where bacteria grow most rapidly — and can double in number in a matter of minutes. Pamela Ellgen, author of The Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook cites salmonella and staphylococcus aureus as common culprits and says they can even contaminate other foods cooked alongside the chicken in the slow cooker,” explains TODAY. “While the bacteria will most likely be killed when the chicken reaches 165 degrees, the toxins they grow can be heat-resistant. According to the USDA, these toxins, not the bacteria that produce them, cause food-borne illnesses.”
So while it might be tempting to toss frozen chicken into a slow cooker while monitoring temperature, following the USDA guidelines will help cut down the likelihood of harmful bacteria developing in your dish.