NC State Extension Publications

Cool Hot Foods

Skip to Cool Hot Foods

From 140°F to 40°F or colder within four hours. Quick Cooling slows the growth of harmful bacteria. Harmful bacteria can cause foodborne illness.

Cool Foods Using One of These Steps:

Skip to Cool Foods Using One of These Steps:
  • Reduce the size of large pieces of hot food by cutting large items into smaller pieces (no more than two inches thick). Divide large batches into smaller portions.
  • Pour thick foods into pre-chilled shallow pans to a depth of no more than two inches. Pour thinner liquids to no more than 3 inches deep. Thick foods include gravy, chili, stew, mashed potatoes, and most vegetables. Thin foods would include most soups, excluding chowder.
  • Put a mixture of half ice and cold water in a large pan or sink. Immerse the pan of hot food into the ice water bath.
  • When the food reaches a temperature of 70°F, cover it and transfer it to a refrigerator to complete the cooling process.
  • Place the pans of food in a quick chill unit or a blast chiller for rapid cooling.

Remember To:

Skip to Remember To:
  • Stir food regularly
  • Check the food temperature in several places to ensure it will cool within 4 hours.
  • Never use the refrigerator or freezer to cool large quantities of hot food.
  • Label cooled and stored foods with the date, food type, and time prepared.
  • Take corrective action if food is not cooled to 40 °F within 4 hours. Reheat to 165 °F for 15 seconds in two hours. Discard food if it is not served immediately.


Materials in the For Safety's Sake series were produced by members of a special Food Safety Agent Resource Team and have been peer-reviewed by individuals from Family & Consumer Sciences and The Food Science Department at North Carolina State University.

Date: November 1998


Extension Agent
Hertford County

Find more information at the following NC State Extension websites:

Publication date: Dec. 29, 1998
Revised: Oct. 4, 2023

N.C. Cooperative Extension prohibits discrimination and harassment regardless of age, color, disability, family and marital status, gender identity, national origin, political beliefs, race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation and veteran status.