Smart Starch: Potato Food Safety

Cooked potatoes pose a risk of spreading foodborne illnesses. Help prevent an outbreak with these three tips.

According to the 2017 Potato Statistical Yearbook created by the National Potato Council, 44 billion pounds of potatoes were produced in the U.S. in 2015. Some of those were turned into potato chips, others french fries. Many potatoes were baked or boiled and then served in restaurants, catering, healthcare and other foodservice operations. And surprisingly, cooked potatoes pose a food safety risk, because they are considered a Time/Temperature Control for Safety (TCS) food.

TCS refresher 

TCS foods, like cooked potatoes, are prone to bacteria growth because they are moist, contain protein and have a neutral or slightly acidic pH. This is ideal for the growth of microorganisms and production of toxins. Proper cooking, holding times and cooling techniques are imperative to avoiding time-temperature abuse and keeping TCS foods safe. 

A food becomes at risk when it spends too much time in the temperature danger zone, which is 41-135°F. Following general food safety standards is always a great way to prevent a foodborne illness from sickening your customers.

General TCS food safety standards

  • Cold food must be kept below 41°F.
  • Hot food must be kept above 135°F.
  • The FDA Food Code recommends a two-stage cooling method. Cool hot food from 140°F (60°C) to 70°F (21°C) within two hours and to 41°F (5°C) or below within four hours.
  • Check the temperature at least every four hours and ideally every two hours, because more frequent checking allows time for corrective action.
  • After four hours, discard food that isn’t below 41°F or above 135°F.

Why are cooked potatoes considered a TCS food? 

If cooked potatoes are not cooled properly, they can easily enter the temperature danger zone. Additionally, cooled potatoes are often combined with mayonnaise or oil to make potato salads, which makes them even more of a breeding ground for bacteria like salmonella or listeria when proper temperatures aren’t maintained.

Cooked Potatoes that Pose a Risk

Baked potatoeBoiled potatoesPotato SaladsMashed Potatoes

3 ways to prevent potato-related food hazards

1. Cool off. Cooling potatoes properly is the best way to avoid a foodborne illness outbreak. Cooling potatoes in the refrigerator takes a minimum of 4 hours, but it can be expedited with these methods:

  • Ice-water bath.
  • Ice paddle.
  • Blast or tumble chiller.
  • Divide large batches of potatoes into shallow pans and spread them out.

2. Serve safely. If cooked potatoes are being reheated, make sure they reach at least 165°F. If the potatoes are being used in a ready-to-eat cold dish, like a potato salad, make sure the dish is served below 41°F. Tip: Place clean ice packs in or around the dish or use an ice-water bath to keep things safely cool. 

3. If in doubt, throw it out! Any food that has been in the temperature danger zone of 41-135°F for more than 4 hours should be discarded. If you aren’t sure how long potatoes have been at 41-135°F, it is better to toss them than risk serving them to your customers.

More food safety information

Existing Gordon Food Service customers can access the following resources by logging in to Gordon Experience and going to Resources > Food Safety Awareness > Forms/Resources.

  • Employee Food Safety Basics. 
  • Temperatures for Food Safety Poster.
  • Time and Temperature Log Sheets.
  • Cooling Chart.
  • … and more!

For more information on food safety and TCS foods, contact the Gordon Food Service Nutrition Resource Center at (800) 968-4426 or by emailing

Other food safety topics

Avoiding Salmonella in Eggs

Safety Considerations for Meat, Fish and Poultry

Food Safety Reminders for Dining Al Fresco and Elsewhere

Feeding Campers? Don’t Take a Vacation from Food Safety

Plant-Based Foods that Are Ripe for Risk

Know the Basics of Shellfish Safety

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