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What is tcs food:

What is tcs food

1. Get the briefing

Recognizing TCS foods and knowing how to properly handle them is an important factor of food safety.

This article walks through all the basics of TCS foods.

To help you learn more about them and know how to keep your customers or guests safe.

Recognizing TCS foods and knowing how to properly handle them is an important responsibility for both food managers and food handlers.

What is tcs food

2. Get the meaning

Some foods are more vulnerable to pathogen growth than others. TCS foods are foods that:

  • Have high carbohydrate and protein levels
  • Are neutral or slightly acidic
  • Contain moisture

Some foods grow bacteria more easily and quickly than other foods.

These foods are known as time/temperature control for safety (TCS) foods.

Because they require certain time and temperature controls to prevent unsafe bacteria growth.

These foods are sometimes called potentially hazardous foods (PHFs).

Because they become hazardous if their bacteria growth is not controlled.

3. TCS food potentials

All food can potentially carry harmful bacteria, but some foods are especially conducive to promoting bacterial growth.

Several factors affect the rate at which bacteria grow in food, but time and temperature are two of the most easily-controlled factors in a food service kitchen.

Food that requires time and temperature control for safety is referred to as TCS food.

TCS food has several attributes that make it ideal for bacterial growth, such as moisture, protein, and a neutral or slightly acidic pH.

4. Know the danger of TCS foods

Bacteria need just three things to grow: food, moisture, and warmth.

Small amounts of bacteria growth in TCS food are not a problem, but too much can cause foodborne illness.

TCS foods have the nutrients and moisture bacteria need to grow.

Add time and warmth to the mix, and these foods can become bacteria breeding grounds.

5. Know the growth of TCS foods

Time is an important part of bacteria growth.

When bacteria have food, warmth, and moisture, their numbers can double every twenty minutes.

After four hours, most TCS foods will have a high enough bacteria count that they become dangerous to eat.

The temperature of TCS foods can also encourage bacteria growth.

The temperature range between 41° and 135° Fahrenheit creates conditions for rapid bacteria growth.

This temperature range is so well suited for bacteria that it’s called the temperature danger zone.

TCS foods in the temperature danger zone will grow bacteria quickly and can easily become hazardous.

What is tcs food

6. Know the common TCS foods

The most common TCS foods include:

  • Meat products
  • Eggs
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Dairy
  • Cream or custard
  • Cooked vegetables
  • Potato dishes
  • Protein-rich plants
  • Raw sprouts
  • Cut leafy greens
  • Cut garlic in oil
  • Sliced melons and tomatoes

7. Know How to keep TCS foods safe

TCS foods can be kept safe by minimizing the time they spend in the temperature danger zone (41–135° F).

When food is in the temperature danger zone, pathogens grow and multiply at a fast rate and can make food unsafe to eat.

In restaurant service, the two most common ways of controlling pathogen growth are time and temperature controls.

8. Know how long can food be left out?

TCS foods that are ready-to-eat can be safely consumed in a four hour window.

If they have not been temperature controlled, they should be discarded after four hours.

Hot held and cold held foods can be served for four hours without temperature controls if they are discarded after the four-hour time limit.

Cold foods can be served for six hours as long as the food temperature stays below 70° Fahrenheit.

Discard cold food that warm to over 70° Fahrenheit.

If you do not regularly check the temperature of cold food that is not temperature controlled.

You should throw it away after four hours.

What is tcs food

9. Know the temperature danger zone

To prevent dangerous growth, TCS foods are kept out of the temperature danger zone or moved through it quickly.

Food temperatures are controlled with freezing, refrigeration, or holding.

Food is refrigerated or frozen until it is prepared for service.

If needed, cooked TCS foods can be safely cooled for later use by using the two-step cooling method.

Ready-to-eat TCS dishes can be hot held above 135° or cold held below 41° Fahrenheit.

There are times when TCS foods will pass through the temperature danger zone, such as warming and cooling.

In order to keep foods safe, do your best to minimize the time food spends in the temperature danger zone.

10. Cooling foods

When cooling foods, the FDA Food Code recommends a two-stage cooling process.

First, the food should be cooled from 135° to 70° degrees Fahrenheit in two hours or less.

Second, the food should be cooled from 70°  to 40° Fahrenheit in four hours or less.

Total cooling should not exceed six hours.

Large batches of food, such as a large pot of stew, should not be cooled in one large container in a refrigerator.

Doing so does not allow the food to cool fast enough and keeps the food in the temperature danger zone for too long and allows pathogens to grow to an unsafe level.

An inexpensive way to properly cool large batches of food is to divide it into smaller containers.

Keep the containers uncovered while cooling to prevent extra moisture.

But be sure to cover it when it has finished cooling.

What is tcs food

11. Warming foods

When reheating foods that will be hot held, the food should be heated to 165°  Fahrenheit or higher.

Foods should reach 165° F in two hours or less.

Because foods must be reheated in a quick manner.

It is important to use appropriate cooking or thermalizing equipment such as a microwave, stove, or oven.

Do not attempt to reheat food for hot holding in warming trays or other hot-holding equipment.

Because these devices will not warm up the food fast enough and will allow pathogens to grow.

These methods of time and temperature control effectively prevent bacteria growth.

With good controls, bacteria growth can be limited and TCS foods kept safe.

12. Read Tips on what is tcs food

TCS food can be whole food, or it can be food that has already been prepared, like a casserole.

TCS food can be from animal or plant sources.

Foods that are considered TCS include:

  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Meat (beef, pork, lamb) or poultry (chicken, turkey)
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Baked potatoes
  • Plant-based foods that have been heat-treated (cooked rice, beans, or vegetables)
  • Soy foods (tofu, textured soy protein/meat alternatives)
  • Sliced or cut fruits or vegetables (e.g. cantaloupe or melons, leafy greens, tomatoes, etc.)
  • Bean sprouts and sprout seeds
  • Untreated garlic-and-oil mixtures

What is tcs food

13. Know how to control when Receiving Food

It is important to make sure you check the temperature of TCS food during the receiving process.

This will help you gauge whether food was exposed to the temperature danger zone during transit.

Document each food’s temperature on a designated temperature log. Refrigerated TCS foods should arrive at 41 F (5 C) or colder.

Frozen TCS food should arrive at 0 F (-18 C) or colder. Hot TCS food should be received at 135 F (57 C) or higher; as with cold or frozen TCS food, be sure to document the temperature of hot TCS food upon receipt using a designated temperature log.

Frozen TCS food with ice crystals or frozen liquid, fluids, or water stains should not be accepted.

Additionally, any food that has passed its use-by or expiration date, has an off odor, abnormal color, or mold, or any meat, fish or poultry that is slimy, sticky, or dry should be rejected.

14. Know how to control when Storing Food

Maintaining proper temperature during storage of TCS food is very important.

Temperatures should be checked and recorded regularly.

Food storage time should be documented.

This is accomplished through writing down the date a food was put into storage and when it should be used directly on the food itself.

Labels are a good way to do this. Here are some safety tips for safely storing TCS food:

  • Refrigerated TCS food should be stored at 41 F (5 C) or colder so that the internal temperature of the food maintains this temperature.
  • Keep frozen food frozen; do not allow it to thaw.
  • Do not overcrowd freezers or refrigerators; this can cause the temperature inside the equipment to become warmer and expose the food to dangerous temperatures.
  • Minimize how often you have to open refrigerator and freezer doors.
  • Label TCS food when it goes into storage. The label should include the name of the food, the date it went into storage, and the date it should be used by. Ready-to-eat TCS food prepared on-site in your facility must be used within seven days if held at 41 F (5 C) or lower.
  • Be sure to rotate food during storage so that the food with the earliest use-by date is in front of foods with later dates. (As discussed in Lesson Four, this is called FIFO rotation, or first in, first out.)

15. Know how to control when Thawing Food

There are four ways to properly thaw frozen food. Which method you use depends on the type of food you thaw. It is important to thaw food properly to minimize how much time the food is in the temperature danger zone to inhibit bacterial growth.

Thawing Method

  1. In the refrigerator

    Thawing food in the refrigerator takes at least 24 hours, so this method requires planning ahead. Place the food on a tray in case any fluids leak from the package. Food should be placed on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to thaw. The temperature inside the refrigerator should be 40 F (4 C) or colder.

    The refrigerator method is the safest method for thawing meat and poultry.

  2. In cold water

    This method is quicker than the refrigerator method and usually takes several hours, depending on the weight of the food. Place the frozen food item in a watertight plastic bag and completely submerge the bag under cold running water, 70 F (21 C) or colder. If thawing using this method, the food must not be above 41 F (5 C) for more than four hours. Once thawed, food should be immediately cooked.

  3. In the microwave

    Use the microwave method for immediate thawing and cooking. To thaw food using the microwave, remove all original packaging and place the food in a microwave-safe container. Follow the instructions in the microwave’s user manual for thawing foods (or defrosting foods) in the microwave. (This method is not ideal for large meat items like roasts or turkey.)

    Once thawed, the food should be cooked immediately.

  4. As part of the cooking process

    Food can be thawed as part of the cooking process, such as when you cook a frozen hamburger patty. Cooking frozen food directly does add to the total cooking time required for the internal temperature of the food to reach the required temperature for that food.

16. Know how to control when Preparing Food

When preparing TCS food, make sure that the food is not exposed to the temperature danger zone for too long. The total amount of time that a TCS food can be in the danger zone is fewer than four hours. During preparation of TCS food, pay attention to how long the food is in the danger zone. Prepare TCS food in small batches, which helps prevent ingredients from being in the temperature danger zone for too long. Once the food is prepared, return it to the refrigerator as quickly as possible.

What is tcs food

17. Know how to control when Cooking Food

To reduce the risk of foodborne illness, TCS food should be cooked to an internal temperature specific to the type of food item it is. The table below lists the minimum internal temperature for various TCS food categories, as well as how long each food should be at that temperature.

18. Holding Food

Once a TCS food has been cooked, it must be held at the correct internal temperature for that food. Cold TCS food must maintain a temperature of 41 F (5 C) or colder, while hot TCS food must maintain a temperature of 135 F (57 C) or hotter. Using covers whenever possible helps to maintain the proper temperature of TCS food. Temperatures of held TCS food should be taken every two hours. Any prepared food that falls in the temperature danger zone (41 F – 135 F) for more than four hours should be thrown out.

What is tcs food

19. Cooling Food

Guidelines for cooling TCS food are as follows: first, bring the food down from 135 F (57 C) to 70 F (21 C) within two hours. If the food does not reach 70 F within two hours, it will need to be reheated to 135 F (57 C) and then cooled again. Next, bring the temperature down from 70 F (21 C) to 41 F (5 C) within four hours. The total cooling time should not exceed six hours. The best ways to cool foods rapidly include using an ice bath, transferring the food to a shallow pan, and dividing dense foods, like lasagna or casserole, into smaller portions. Record the temperature of the food during the cooling process on a temperature log to ensure that it cools properly.

20. Reheating Food

When reheating food, the internal temperature of the food must reach 165 F (74 C) within two hours. Take the temperature to ensure the food has reached 165 F (74 C) for 15 seconds. Once this minimum temperature has been reached, the food should be held at 135 F (57 C) or warmer.

What is tcs food


Taking the temperature of foods during all phases of food preparation is critical to ensuring that TCS food is kept safe from bacterial growth. Below are several types of temperature logs for recording temperatures of TCS foods through all phases of food procurement, preparation, service, and storage. Discuss each temperature log with your supervisor. Hang them in the appropriate areas in the kitchen and formulate a plan with your supervisor to regularly take temperatures and record them on the various logs.

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