Do You Know Your Temperature Danger Zones?

The “temperature danger zone” is known throughout the food service industry as 41° to 135° F. Did you also know there are danger zones throughout your establishment? Danger zones exist throughout any foodservice establishment where foodborne illness can occur at any moment of any day. Following proper procedures and using the right food safety products, however, protects customers and employees from these potential problems.

Eight critical danger zones must be carefully managed from a food safety perspective. These areas are:

  • Receiving area
  • Storage areas – including dry, refrigerated and frozen areas
  • Preparation areas
  • Cooking surfaces
  • Employee break rooms
  • Employee wash areas
  • Restrooms
  • Dining areas – including tables, salad bars and drink stands


The first danger zone food encounters is the receiving area. This is the first opportunity for a food service organization to view and inspect foods to ensure that they were properly shipped and did not encounter environments that could jeopardize the product’s quality for customers. All products delivered should meet the health department’s pre-established standards.

So how can employees assure that incoming products are safe? First, the manager should schedule deliveries during the slower business hours so that enough trained staff is available to inspect and store the food properly. The deliveries should be inspected and checked for proper labeling, freshness code dates and temperatures. The temperatures should be checked and recorded at the time of delivery. If the food is not at the proper temperature, it could already be contaminated and, therefore, food should not be accepted.

A visual inspection of the product itself should be performed on certain foods, such as produce. If the produce appears discolored or has visible signs of rotting or insect activity, it should not be accepted.

Next, the packaging must also be checked. Look for holes, tears or punctures. If the packaging is not sealed properly then contamination may have occurred. Things to look for include broken boxes, packages that are leaking or look like they once had a leak and dented or bulging cans. These can be considered signs of mishandling and could be used as a reason to refuse the shipment. Also, check for signs of re-freezing or pest infestation, such as small holes.

Packages should be inspected immediately upon delivery and placed in proper storage as quickly as possible to keep them out of the temperature danger zone. Also, all items should be labeled with the date, such as with the Daydots day-of-the-week food rotation labels.

To avoid the possibility of having your receiving area become a “danger zone,” develop a relationship with vendors, and, ideally, tour establishments to see if vendors you’re your quality standards.


The second danger zone that food encounters is the storage zone. The first challenge is making sure that all food is properly stored in the right storage facility at the proper temperature. For refrigerated foods the storage unit should be at a temperature of 41° F or lower. Frozen storage should hold food at 0° F or lower while dry storage, which is used to hold dry and canned food, should be between 50° and 70° with humidity levels of 50 to 60 percent.

When storing food, it is imperative that food handlers pay attention to which food goes on which shelf. Raw foods like meat and poultry should go on the bottom shelves; if their juices drip, they will not contaminate the food below it. Cooked and ready-to-eat foods should be placed on the upper shelves so that they cannot be contaminated by raw foods. In addition, raw foods should be stored in this top to bottom order: Whole fish, whole cuts of beef and pork, ground meats and fish, then whole and ground poultry.

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