‘Tis the season to break out the Crock-Pot, but be sure yours is fit for duty before you start cooking.
Crock-Pots and other slow cookers are generally pretty safe. But after pulling yours out of storage and dusting it off, you should inspect it for any potential safety hazards.
Check the hardware
Maybe you haven’t used your slow cooker in a while or perhaps you picked up a used one at a yard sale. Whatever the scenario, make sure it’s still in good condition. Check the legs, handles, and lid for tightness. You want to make sure the hardware is completely secure to avoid any potential safety hazards when handling hot food.
“If you were handed down a vintage pot from the ‘70s that has the insert firmly attached to the heating element, instead of a removable insert, then it’s time to upgrade,” said Stephanie O'Dea, New York Times best-selling cookbook author and slow-cooking expert. “All of the newer pots have a removable cooking pot which is dishwasher safe.”
Check the electrical connection
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Thoroughly inspect the slow cooker’s electrical cord, from the base of the body to the plug. If you notice any fraying or broken electrical cords, don’t use the cooker before repairing it. Frayed wiring can cause a short circuit, and this poses a fire hazard.
“If your slow cooker is old enough to have an electric cord surrounded by fabric, it’s time to toss it,” said O'Dea. “Fabric cords do not meet today’s safety standards and are a fire hazard.”
Especially because slow cookers are designed to be left alone all day, you don’t want to keep them plugged in if the electrical cord isn’t fully intact.
Check the temperature
Older slow cookers might not heat up as well as they once did. Make sure yours reaches high enough temperatures to properly cook food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, most slow cookers reach a temperature between 170 degrees and 280 degrees Fahrenheit. You can test yours to see if it's working properly.
“Fill the slow cooker 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full with tap water -- tepid, not too hot or cold,” said O’Dea. “Set it to the low setting, and then check with a food thermometer after eight hours. The thermometer should read at least 185 degrees.”
Slow cookers are designed to safely cook your food while you’re away, but like any electrical device, you want to ensure it’s working properly to eliminate any safety concerns. Some consumers worry about the lead dangers in slow cookers, too. Newer slow cookers include a label noting compliance with FDA guidelines for lead levels, but if you have an older cooker and you’re concerned, you can use an inexpensive lead tester to ensure yours is safe.
Kristin Wong is is a personal finance writer and journalist and NBCNews.com contributor. A former MSN correspondent, she regularly contributes to Bankrate and Lifehacker’s Two Cents website.