About Coffee Pot Safety

It is unfortunate that most people are not aware of the Food Code and FDA compliance methods and yet still feel free to express opinions on cooking methods and recipes being safe or unsafe. When I say that preparing “meals for one” is safer in a coffeepot than those made in a cock pot, I speak as a technically proficient expert witness qualified to testify on the manner. I know that most American kitchens and cooks would never pass an FDA inspection because of poorly designed processing procedures and the total lack of consideration of safety issues.

I will explain my qualifications below but there is a rich body of systematic analysis on safety issues related to crock pots by the FDA, State Departments of Health and the United States Department of Agriculture. This information can be used to compare the coffeepot and the crackpot

According to the Government Analysis, Crackpot cooking is safe even though it is at a lower temperature than the boiling point of water. It is 170 minimum which is hot enough to kill all bacteria in 15 seconds.

However, because of the low temperatures, they stress a number of points which all come down to a common theme, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

The caveats include; taking care that all ingredients are not exposed to cross contamination from dirty utensils, crackpot or cutting board; the food is fully defrosted but not allowed to come to room temperature because you do not want your pot of food to have a chance to grow bacteria; anything perishable should be kept refrigerated until it is placed in the pot; hands should be cleaned frequently; and if you’re sick, you shouldn’t be cooking for a crowd.

Now the safety assessment refers to this advice as “safe beginnings” and right from the start, the coffeepot is better. Because it is glass and has no electrical parts, it can be placed in a dishwasher and be easily inspected for any residual food from prior use. In the old fashioned crock pots, the cooking surface could not be separated from the pot so it was very difficult to clean and the brown color made it near impossible to carefully inspect. The newer removable white pots are a vast improvement.

But what about breakage, chips and cracks, The rule is simple for either a crackpot or a coffeepot When in doubt, throw it out including the meal. Yes, I have cracked and broken coffeepots and I simply throw them away with the food and swear to be more careful in the future. Most people never think about it but, a chipped or cracked crackpot is dangerous because the porous ceramic is a breeding ground for bacteria. Neither one can be safely used when cracked or chipped.

5 quart crock pot

Older model 5 quart crock-pot

The next limitation of a crock pot is the fill level. Seems that most older and less expensive models have the heating surface on the side and if you fill below the heating element, the food does not get hot enough in a quick enough time period to prevent the growth of bacteria. The recommended fill level for crock pots is ½ to ¾ full, In a comparison test, a small crock pot, a large crock pot and my coffeepot all heat water to 170 degrees in 2 hours when filled to the minimum acceptable level for a crock pot of half full as recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture. Like the three little bears, the small crock pot is too small, the standard crock pot is too big and the coffeepot is just the right size for a portion controlled meal for one person.

gravy pot and coffee pot

16 ounce gravy crock-pot, 60 ounce coffee pot

From a safety and control perspective, the right size pot is important as the meat and vegetables are always covered with liquid so everything is more likely to be cooked evenly at the same temperature in the shortest period of time. In addition, there is no minimum level in the coffee pot because the heating is from the bottom up. The curved sides bring the hot liquid to the top as convection currents carry the cooler liquid down the center of the pot during the initial cooking stage, but since the bottom side of the meat is already in contact with the hotplate at 170 and has started cooking, there is no problem.

In the crock pot the sides are heated and the hot liquid against the sides of the pot rises and the colder liquid drops down the center of the pot so the last thing to reach safe temperatures is the bottom of the meat at the bottom of the pot which might have been generating toxins the whole 1 ½ hours it took to rise above 160 degrees.

One of the most egregious examples of Food Code Violations might be a recipe from a crock-pot cookbook for a Turkey meet loaf containing ground turkey and raw eggs which provides an almost perfect incubator for growing a salmonella or E. coli culture if there are any bacteria in the starting ingredients.

Now what qualifies me to stand in judgment of recipes and equipment?

I am by education a Chemical Engineer with a Bachelor degree from the University of Pennsylvania where I made the Deans list and Graduated with Honors. I studied for my Masters at Cornell University and Penn offered me a Ford Fellowship to return and pursue my Doctorate which I did not do for economic reasons. From 1972 to 1979, I owned and operated a winery and the activities were monitored by the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. Between 1976 to 1977, I worked in the production of ingredients for antiperspirants which were made in compliance with FDA regulation.

From 1978 until 1990, I was engaged in the manufacturing of bulk pharmaceuticals and if I had to guess, during this period, almost every American family had at least one member who ingested something that I was involved in making from ephedrine to cough medicine to heart medications and cures for cramps and headaches. All medicines are made in compliance with standard operating procedures which evaluate all intrinsic hazards and the critical control points which will minimize the risk to the consumer from the ingredients and processes being used. The process is referred to as the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point Plan or HACCP plan.

I spent a decade, analyzing the hazards associate with the ingredients used in making the final pharmaceutical of interest, how to guarantee the purity, how to store the ingredients to insure the continued purity, how to clean the equipment and how to insure that the equipment was really clean and there would be no cross contamination, insuring that cooking times and temperatures were accurately adhered to and what to do at each critical step if something went wrong. I wrote the plans. It is from this perspective that I analyzed and compared the inherent safety issues with coffeepot and crock pot cooking.

The only conclusion that can be reached by someone familiar with hazard analysis and critical control points is that in making meals for one, the coffee pot is inherently superior to the crock pot because it is the proper size, cooks items at the bottom center of the pot faster, and is more readily cleaned and inspected.

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