NDSU Extension Service - Sargent County

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Two Inch and Two Hour Rules for Food Safety

food thermometerPicnics are one of my favorite things about summer.  When I first met the man who became my husband, I got in on lots of summer picnics with his family.  His mom was Picnic Packer Extraordinaire! Much as I love warm weather and picnics, I do fret over the food safety aspects of them.  So the flip side of summer is winter, and one of the advantages of living in North Dakota is that our seasons of cold weather minimize some food safety concerns.

Because perishable foods remain safe for only a short time when exposed to room temperatures or warmer outdoor air temperatures, grocery shopping (and picnic packing) in the summer is something we need to plan more intentionally.  It usually means that we need to save grocery shopping as our last task before we head for home when we’re not far from home, or, if we are out of town, we need to plan ahead by taking along insulated bags or coolers and ice.

The key concepts of food safety are clean, separate, cook, and chill.  There are two recommendations regarding “chill” that we want to be sure to remember.  One is the two-inch rule, and the other is the two-hour rule.

The two-inch rule is very straightforward.  Be sure to put cooked food into containers large enough so that the hot cooked food is only two inches deep, or less, in the container.  Doing so helps assure that the food will cool down to a safe temperature (below 41 degrees F.) quickly enough.  At my house, that means the casserole, chili, and soup, for example, are put into uncovered or loosely covered nine-by-thirteen cake pans to cool down quickly in the refrigerator.  After the food has cooled down to be below 41 degrees, I can cover the pans, or transfer the food to my favorite food storage or freezer containers.  Food that is cooked in a slow cooker should not be refrigerated in the crock because the crock holds heat and prevents the contents from cooling quickly, even if the food is less than two inches deep inside the crock.

The other recommendation is to watch the clock and respect the two-hour rule.  The point is to make sure that foods that are cooked to be served hot, and foods that are taken out of the refrigerator or freezer to be served cold, are not allowed to be out at room/air temperature for more than one or two hours.  On warm days, such as on a picnic, the sooner, the better it is to get the food into or back into the cooler, and one hour is the maximum time for it to be left out at room temperature. 

NDSU Extension Service has a variety of food safety publications available.  Feel free to request information on this topic from your county extension office, or on the NDSU Extension Service website at www.ndsu.edu/extension.  As always, feel free to call the extension office if you or your friends, family, co-workers or employees have a topic you would like to learn more about through a presentation, lesson, program, activity or workshop.  NDSU Extension has a lot to offer, and we are here to serve you!

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