For beginners, food safety and using slow cookers or crockpots bring up several questions. Aside from following food safety handling rules and food temperature safety, is the unit itself safe?
How many of us get a hand-me-down old crockpot, find one at a thrift store or garage sale, or question if the one we bought years ago still works? These situations warrant testing the crockpot or slow cooker to assure it is operating like it should.
I found out how to test my slow cookers for safety. I wasn’t sure of the age of each slow cooker in my five-crockpot collection. Let’s see if my slow cookers are still running efficiently!
Don’t miss the other articles in the slow cooker series:
- Crockpot and Slow Cooker Lid Questions
- How to Take a Slow Cooker Safety Test
- Can Crockpots and Slow Cookers Get Too Hot?
- Hot Crockpots & Slow Cookers Can Harm Counters
How do I know if my crockpot or slow cooker is working?
To be fair, there is nothing immediately concerning with any of my slow cookers. If food just wasn’t getting done, I would be worried.
If the slow cooker appears to not be heating properly, you have every right to be concerned about the possibility of food poisoning. Sometimes it’s obvious, like when one day I plugged in the first crockpot I ever owned. The stoneware was filled with a pot roast and set as normal. I came back hours later only to discover zero progress. It kicked the bucket hard.
Other times, your slow cooker or crockpot could be dying a slow death, without you noticing. Fortunately, there is a way to check this. Iowa State University extension offers this advice to determine if your slow cooker/crockpot is operating normally:
“We sometimes have callers concerned about the safety of their slow cookers. To determine if a slow cooker will heat food to a safe temperature, fill the cooker with 2 quarts of [room temperature] water. Heat on Low for 8 hours or the desired cooking time. Check the water temperature with an accurate thermometer (quickly because the temperature drops 10 to 15 degrees when the lid is removed). – The temperature of the water should be 185° to 200°F. Temperatures above this would indicate that a product cooked for 8 hours without stirring would be overdone. Temperatures below this may indicate the cooker does not heat food high enough or fast enough to avoid potential food safety problems.”
REF: Patricia Redlinger 1993; Pm-1523
I decided to go ahead and test all of the slow cookers in my collection (see results below). Two failed the test. All of my slow cookers have stoneware liners except the GE 6 qt. model (one of the failures). It is my oldest slow cooker.
By the way, do not fear a crockpot or slow cooker getting hot on the outside – it’s normal. Read more about concerns about hot crockpots and slow cookers exteriors. Considering replacing your slow cooker? Make sure to review the feature below.
Should I replace the slow cooker?
If you are struggling trying to remember how old your slow cooker is, it’s probably time to replace it.
I had to laugh when a website said, “replace if it has a fabric cord.” Ha! I would be pretty scared to use anything with a fabric cord – what is that from, the 40s? the 50s?
Here are the results of the ISU slow cooker safety test. As I said before, two failed the test of having to be 185° to 200°F after operating 8 hours on low (filled 2/3 with water).
Temperature results of testing crockpots/slow cookers on low, 2/3 full of water for 8 hours.
Automatic vs manual shut offs on slow cookers
One thing I wanted to touch on regarding slow cooker safety was automatic shut offs.
Above, I show the control panels of the five various slow cookers that I own. The two on the far left are 6-qt models with fancy digital controls. The one in the center, the Rival 1-qt Crock-ette has one single light to tell me that it is on, with no other option. The two on the right have my preferred “low” and “high” – simple works for me!
Even though slow cookers have low wattage, automatic shut-off may be desired. This is especially beneficial for forgetful humans (this is not age specific!).
Both of my 6-qt slow cookers have automatic shut offs and slightly complicated digital panels. The first 6-qt crockpot I had was simply “low” and “high” (that’s the one that quit working). You won’t find these digital panels on smaller models that are probably only used for dips or vegetables.
The big slow cookers need more finely-tuned controls that can program in more perfect cooking conditions. In reality, it’s mostly pot roasts or whole chickens for me. I am interested in the “hold warm” feature after 8-10 hours of cooking, that is helpful.
Safety features on crockpots and slow cookers
There is a good reason, though, not to use old slow cookers. Safety features are constantly improving. If you have an old crockpot in your possession, look at the length of the cord. Most cords have been shortened to prevent accidental entanglement such as tripping on, or catching on things.
Oh my goodness! That reminds me of a story growing up. When we used to have landlines (before portable phones), my family had a super-long, attached coiled cord. This retro phone allowed my mother to walk pretty far around the kitchen while having long conversations.
One time when she was cooking, the cord came in contact with the stove top and caught on fire! This was in the late 1970s, I don’t remember the style. I am embarrassed to say I still have my landline phone on the wall. It is probably half the length my mom had (no idea where she got her epic cord from). This was replaced with a bright orange phone (because she was really rocking the 70s look).
I disconnected my landline almost two years ago (the phone is still on the wall, pathetic, right?). Just to prove it, here is my phone with the slow cookers I am testing today, pretty sure one of them is vintage, too. Oh, look – see the old Tupperware picture in the background?
It get’s even worse, there’s vintage lime green linoleum in my pantry. I know, I know, We are stalling on a whole-house makeover, or just go for building new. I’ll keep you updated.
Back to shopping for crockpots…
Another sign that you are using a dated crockpot is if the insert is attached to the base. Crockpot /slow cooker manufacturers don’t make them that way anymore – inserts are made to remove for easy cleaning these days.
If your slow cooker or crockpot has big flower designs circa 1970s or it’s a lovely avocado green or harvest gold-colored pot, then you have a vintage crockpot. It’s your call if it needs to go. Many users report that crockpots or slow cookers that old still perform well.
I argue that the efficiency of the device slowly declines over time. If you still want to continue to use a vintage crockpot, then at least proceed with the ISU crockpot/slow cooker safety test.
I feel I have opened the door with my phone/Tupperware confession above. Feel free to reveal any 70s era crockpots stashed in your house in the comments below (80s or 90s anyone?).