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The TCS food meaning is simple: It’s the process of monitoring time and temperature controls of foods that are at risk of spoiling. In restaurants and commercial kitchens, food safety is of paramount importance.

TCS food is the type of food that needs careful monitoring of time and temperature to prevent bacterial growth that can cause foodborne illnesses. Microorganisms can taint food by producing toxins, and even if the food is cooked hot enough to kill the bacteria, tainted food is still a safety risk. Therefore, you still need a tool such as food thermometers to help you to know the temperature and control it.

What Is TCS Food?

The acronym TCS stands for time-temperature control for safety, and a TCS food is any food that is subject to fast bacterial growth. Bacteria grow rapidly when they have the right conditions. These include warm, moist environments with protein, carbs and other nutrients. Bacteria thrive in pH neutral or slightly acidic conditions. The organisms also require time to reproduce.

That’s why it’s critical to control temperatures and reduce the amount of time that food is exposed to the hot zone – temperatures between 41 degrees Fahrenheit and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher and lower temperatures retard or stop bacteria from growing. Food with a high acidic or alkaline content is also resistant to bacterial growth. That’s why fresh fruit can often be kept without refrigeration if the peel is intact.

Why TCS Food Can be Dangerous

Bacteria can double in population every 20 minutes. TCS foods have the perfect composition for bacterial growth, and when the temperature is between 41 degrees and 135 degrees, bacteria begin reproducing. This range of temperature is called the hot zone or danger zone.

Small amounts of bacteria are normal in food and not a threat to health. However, growth in the hot zone for four hours or longer can produce enough bacteria to threaten people’s health and even their lives. Undercooking food can also be a danger because existing bacteria aren’t killed, and they can begin reproducing in the stomach after you eat. Stomach acids provide some protection, but not enough to stop all bacteria from reproducing.

Restaurants, and even conscientious home chefs, use time and temperature controls to reduce the danger-zone time that bacteria need to reproduce rapidly. That means chilling hot foods quickly, cooking to a safe temperature, holding foods safely and eating prepared foods quickly.

Common TCS Food List

According to, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about 48 million people get at least a mild case of food poisoning each year. I know many respected home cooks who routinely prepare and serve southern-style potato salad at room temperature, and most restaurants leave whipped butter out all day so that it stays soft. People eat and carry home fried chicken that sits for hours before it’s refrigerated. Any of these habits can cause food poisoning.

The most common TCS food examples that generate safety risks include the following meats, vegetables, and dairy products:

  1. Milk and dairy products, which are often left out for extended periods
  2. Meat and poultry, which generate ideal conditions for bacterial growth
  3. Fish and shellfish
  4. Eggs, which are often stacked in restaurants at the grill
  5. Baked potatoes
  6. Vegetables that have been heated – such as cooked rice, beans, stews, etc.
  7. Soy foods, which many people consider immune to bacteria
  8. Sliced or cut vegetables and fruit
  9. Garlic and oil mixtures that haven’t been treated
  10. Bean sprouts
  11. Potato dishes like potato salad
  12. Creams and custards
  13. Whipped butter

Time and Temperature Controlling Chart for Receiving and Storing Food

You should check food temperatures when you receive a delivery to make sure that refrigerated foods are at least 41 degrees or cooler. Otherwise, return the suspect foods. Any frozen food with ice crystals, running fluid or large amounts of frozen liquid should also be returned. Posting kitchen charts serves a dual purpose in commercial food establishments.

The charts provide a precise summary of food dates that can be used by any shift, manager, cook, and server. The chart also serves as a reminder that food safety is a critical concern of the establishment. You can find charts from various online sources for different aspects of effective TCS monitoring.

Controls for receiving and storing food are often overlooked. The time that food languishes on food docks or stacked in the kitchen before being put away adds to the time in the danger zone. Important aspects for your chart include testing the temperatures of refrigerators, reach-ins, walk-ins, and freezers. Keep track of delivery times and how long before the food is safely stored.

It’s important to spot-check food temperatures every two hours throughout the day. You need a reliable, instant-read type of thermometer to do this. ThermoPro offers a variety of top-quality thermometers for the grill, refrigerators and taking instant-read temps throughout the day. Wireless thermometers can be set to trigger a warning if the temperature enters the danger zone.

Any time that food is exposed to danger-zone conditions should be noted on the chart and added to future safety calculations. Health department food codes allow for six hours of cooling in two temperature ranges.

Time and Temperature Controlling Chart During Cooking, Holding, Cooling, and Reheating

Unfortunately, it’s necessary to use a chart to keep an accurate record of the time that food spends in the danger zone. The time includes periods during the cooking, reheating, holding and cooling processes. A formal chart might not be necessary for home kitchens, but it’s wise to use one in commercial operations where one cook can easily lose track of multiple foods. The chart provides a record of times and temperatures that every staff member can consult.


Your time and temperature control chart for foodservice includes both food prep and cooking on the line. It’s important to monitor equipment temperatures regularly. Many chefs put foods into steam tables to heat, but that practice results in leaving food too long in the danger zone. You must heat food rapidly to a safe temperature before placing it on a holding table.

An instant-read probe thermometer – like those manufactured by ThermoPro – is indispensable for monitoring the temperatures of cooked foods, steam table foods, reheated foods and foods being rapidly chilled. When saving food from holding tables or food prep areas, large quantities should be broken down and chilled as rapidly as possible by using an ice bath, cold water bath or similar cooling strategy. You can also use plastic-filled ice paddles to cool hot stews and sauces rapidly or cool foods with a blast or tumble chiller.

When cooking eggs, it’s important to heat them to 145 degrees for at least 15 seconds for immediate service. When boiling or reheating TCS food, you should try to keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to heat it directly or place the food in a boiling pouch in water. Reheated foods must be heated to 165 degrees and held at that temperature for safety.

Keeping your charts up to date with information about all the time food spends in the danger zone during various cooking, holding and chilling processes gives you a hard record of the amount of time each food is exposed to bacterial growth. It’s critical to act on that information and remove food from service when it’s been “overexposed.”

General Tips for Maintaining TCS Safety

Maintaining food safety is critical for both commercial food preparation kitchens of any type and home kitchens where your family’s safety is at risk. Time/temperature control foods are easily managed in home kitchens when you focus on the benefits of ensuring your family’s safety. Foods need to be monitored when they’re in the danger zone, and the following tips can help you keep food safe in your home or commercial kitchens:

  1. Thawing
    Leaving frozen food out is too risky because it’s impossible to keep a record of when parts of the food reach the danger zone. That’s why you need to thaw frozen food at 41 degrees or colder. You can thaw food in the microwave if you plan to cook it immediately.
  2. Cooler Malfunctions
    Throw out refrigerated food if an instant-read thermometer shows a temperature higher than 41 degrees.
  3. Chilling Food Safely
    If food doesn’t reach 70 degrees within two hours, you must throw it away or reheat the food to 165 degrees and cool it again more rapidly. You can add cold water to soups or stew to reduce cooling time.
  4. Proper Equipment for the Job
    You should use proper equipment for cooking, reheating and holding foods. That means applying sufficient heat to cook and reheat rapidly. You can’t reheat yesterday’s holding table leftovers by placing them in containers in the table to reheat. You must reheat the food to 165 degrees and then place it on the holding table. You should also preheat all the ingredients if you’re using a crockpot to cook a stew or meal-in-a-pot for extra safety. Most food will heat to 165 degrees within four hours, but why takes chances?


Food safety depends on time and temperature control to prevent bacteria from multiplying to the point where the microorganisms pose health risks. Four hours is the maximum time that food should ever rest in the danger zone, and if food hasn’t cooled to room temperature by then, it should be thrown away. Once you reheat food to 165 degrees, the cycle starts again. If you’re reheating properly chilled food, you can heat it to any temperature if it’s to be eaten immediately.

Everything about handling TCS foods depends on using a reliable thermometer like the ThermoPro Meat Thermometer. ThermoPro also manufactures wireless, probe, grill and refrigerator and freezer thermometers, so you can calibrate and check all the elements of time/temperature control foods.

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