It’s almost like coming home and thinking someone else cooked for you while you were away — that aroma from a meal that’s been cooking all day in the slow cooker.

Also known by their common brand name of Crock-Pot, slow cookers can simplify meal preparation, and following a few steps can ensure that the meal is cooked properly and safely, according to Londa Nwadike, extension consumer food safety specialist for the University of Missouri and Kansas State University.

Using a slow cooker can lower electricity use and keep the house cooler than using the stovetop or oven during warm weather.

“Slow cookers are a great way to prepare a delicious hot meal on a more flexible preparation schedule, which works well for many people, including families with young children such as mine,” Nwadike said.

She provides 10 tips to keep in mind while using slow cookers.

1) Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time.

2) Make sure hands, utensils and work surfaces are clean.

3) Thaw meat completely before adding it to the slow cooker. It’s OK to cook large cuts of meat and poultry, as long as it is thawed. Check the slow cooker instruction book for suggested maximum sizes of meat and poultry to cook in the cooker.

4) Preheat the cooker (be sure it is plugged in and turned on).

5) Fill the cooker 1/2 to 2/3 full. Liquid should almost cover any meat or poultry that is used. Start with hot liquids if possible.

6) If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low if desired. Don’t use the “keep warm” setting for cooking – only for keeping food warm.

7) Keep the lid in place as much as possible while cooking to keep the heat and steam trapped in the cooker.

8) Before eating, use a food thermometer to ensure the products have reached a safe temperature.

9) Put leftovers in the refrigerator in a shallow container. They will cool faster than if you put the crock itself in the refrigerator.

10) Don’t use a slow cooker to reheat leftovers.

More information about slow cooker use is available in the U.S. Department of Agriculture fact sheet at tinyurl.com/k58s6je.

More information about food safety in general is available at  www.missourifamilies.org/foodsafety and www.ksre.ksu.edu/foodsafety.

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