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Slow Cooker Savvy: Some tips and tricks on maintaining and using reliable kitchen appliance

By ALETHEA PRICE

Boyle County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences

Few things are better than coming home at the end of the day to a freshly prepared meal. Slow cookers can help us achieve that dream. Since the weather decided to take a turn back to cold, slow cookers seemed like a perfect topic to discuss.

While slow cookers may be synonymous with winter, you can use them any time of the year to safely prepare foods. In fact, using a slow cooker during the summer will help keep your home a little cooler as it keeps you from using a hot oven to prepare dinner.

A slow cooker cooks food at a low temperature over a longer period of time than other cooking methods. The pot’s heat, its lengthy cooking time and steam created by the tightly covered lid destroy harmful bacteria, making it safe for food preparation. As with any appliance or food preparation method, safe handling is extremely important when using a slow cooker. Remember these tips when using your slow cooker.

• Always wash your hands before and while preparing foods. Make sure your slow cooker, utensils and work area are clean before using the slow cooker.

• Always thaw meat or poultry in the refrigerator before putting it in the slow cooker. Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time.

• Put vegetables in the slow cooker before meat or poultry because they take longer to cook.

• Only remove the lid to stir your meal or check for doneness.

• Cook foods at the proper settings according to the instructions of your recipe. If you are going to be gone all day, it is safe to cook foods on the low setting for the entire time.

Food will remain safe for consumption in the slow cooker as long as it is working.  If a power outage occurs and you are not at home, throw the food away, even if it appears done. If you are home and the power goes out, finish cooking the food in the slow cooker by some other method that does not require electricity such as a gas stove or an outdoor grill.

There are a few safety and usage tips I’d like to share with you to protect you and prevent damage to your slow cooker.

• Do not use the slow cooker if the crock has a crack or severe scratches. This can weaken the strength of the crock and it may break during use, causing a very unsafe condition.

• Be sure the slow cooker is placed on a flat, sturdy surface during use.

• If using an extension cord, make sure it has at least the same electrical rating as the slow cooker. If the extension cord is warm to the touch when it is being used, it is not sufficient. Be sure that the cord is not in the path of a walkway and it is not draping somewhere that it might get caught on something. Also, be sure it is out of the reach of small children.

• Be careful not to expose the crock to extreme temperature changes. If the crock is cold and hot ingredients are added or it is placed in a heating unit that is hot, the crock can crack. Also, if the crock is hot and it is exposed to cold food or water, it can crack.

• When you are done cooking with the slow cooker, be sure to unplug the unit immediately.

Never immerse the heating unit in water.

For more information on food preparation and safety, contact the county agent for Family and Consumer Sciences at the Boyle County Extension office. Email me at a.price@uky.edu.