How Long You Can Safely Keep Your Slow Cooker Set On 'Warm'

Slow cookers are incredibly convenient appliances to have in the kitchen. You can set your slow cooker to cook your dinner before you leave for the day and come home to a hot and freshly cooked meal. You can also set it overnight and wake up to a tasty breakfast. Depending on the recipe and how much time you have, you can use the high or low setting on your slow cooker, which will cook your meal at different temperatures. Then there is the warm setting, which will keep your food at the ideal serving temperature until you're ready to enjoy your meal. However, just how long can you safely keep your slow cooker on the warm setting?

According to the USDA, bacteria grows rapidly between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, what it refers to as the "danger zone." Most warming settings on slow cookers will maintain food at a temperature of around 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Given how close that temperature is to the "danger zone," it is recommended that you only keep food on the warm setting on your slow cooker for up to four hours.

What else you need to know about the warm setting

Different models of slow cookers will have different temperature settings, so it's best to consult your manual or to use a thermometer to check the actual temperature of your food on the warm setting. Bear in mind that every time you open the lid to your slow cooker, heat is lost and the overall temperature of your food will drop as a result — the internal temperature of a slow cooker drops by about 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit every time the lid is opened.

The more you open the lid, the quicker your food will drop into the "danger zone." Minimize how often you open the lid while your food is being kept warm to maintain it at safe temperatures for longer. You should also never use the warm setting to cook food, or to reheat food, as your food won't reach a high enough temperature to kill off bacteria. The warm setting on your slow cooker is great for keeping your food warm until you're ready to enjoy it. Just make sure that it's within four hours of when your food is done cooking.