For most of the year, my slow cooker stays on the shelf in my kitchen. But, when the Super Bowl approaches, I always pull it out to make chili, meatballs, or other hot party foods. The thing that I love about a slow cooker is that it can cook food safely and help me save time while I’m busy preparing for the big game.


This time of year, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline receives lots of questions related to slow cooking. Sometimes we hear about really scary mistakes that people make when they’re preparing slow cooked food. To make sure that you and your party guests stay safe, I  wanted to share a few of these slow cooker questions and answers.

I placed my meat in the slow cooker and then forgot to turn it on. It was off for 6 hours before I discovered it. Is it still safe? If I cook it, will that destroy any bacteria and make it safe?

Unfortunately, the meat is not safe, even if you cook it. Perishable food left in the “Danger Zone” (between 40 °F and 140 °F) for more than 2 hours should be discarded even though it may look and smell good.

After I made chili in my slow cooker, I poured it in a large bowl and put it in the refrigerator to cool overnight. When I checked it this morning, I noticed that it’s still warm in the center. Is it still safe?

This caller was very disappointed to learn that the chili was not safe. If you’re making a large pot of soup, chili, or stew, store it in shallow containers that enable the food to cool quickly in the fridge. Always refrigerate cooked food within two hours after the cooking is finished. Don’t let it sit on the counter to cool.

Is it safe to reheat food like pork BBQ in a slow cooker?

We do NOT recommend reheating food or leftovers in a slow cooker. Instead, we advise callers to reheat cooked food to steaming on the stove top or in a microwave oven. Then, you can put it into a preheated slow cooker to keep it hot for serving. Use a food thermometer to be sure the food stays at 140 °F. or above.

I usually put my frozen meatballs directly in the slow cooker to start cooking, but my best friend says that’s not safe. Who’s right?

You’re very lucky to have a best friend who is also food safe! Your friend is right. All ingredients that you place into a slow cooker should be thawed first. Keep thawed food and other perishable food refrigerated until you’re ready to start cooking.

For more information about using slow cookers safely, check out these resources:

Fact Sheet: Slow Cookers and Food Safety

If you have any other questions, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at (English and Spanish).

By Diane Van, Manager, USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline