What are TCS Foods?

Saro Loucks

Saro Loucks

September 10, 2023

What are TCS Foods

What are TCS Foods?

Foods that grow bacteria and pathogens quickly and easily and require Time and Temperature Controls to prevent spoilage and contamination are known in the food safety business as TCS foods. They are also known as Potentially Hazardous Foods or PHFs because they become hazardous to health if bacteria and pathogen growth is not controlled.

Who Uses the Terms PHF and TCS Foods?

These terms are used in the food manufacturing and food safety world. FoodReady food safety software and consulting can help your food and beverage business implement a system to keep your TCS foods safe.

Try it out today!

Give the FoodReady platform a try for free for 14 days.

What Makes up TCS or PHF Foods?

TCS and PHF foods have several qualities which make them susceptible to spoilage and bacterial growth. 

  • They contain moisture.
  • They have higher protein and carbohydrate levels.
  • They are neutral or slightly acidic in nature.

Is there a difference between TCS and PHF foods?

Yes. TCS (Time/Temperature Control for Safety) food must be kept at safe temperatures of 41°F or below, or 135°F or above to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria like Salmonella. PHF (Potentially Hazardous Food) is any food that requires time/temperature control for safety to limit pathogen growth or toxin production. PHF foods must be kept at temperatures of 41°F or below, and 135°F or above. Both types of food must never be left in the “Danger Zone” – between 41°F and 135°F – where bacteria can multiply quickly.

What are some examples of common types of TCS foods and PHFs?

Cut leafy greens (lettuce, chard, spinach)

Raw sprouts (mung bean, alfalfa, broccoli)

Cooked veggies

Sliced melon

Sliced or diced tomato

Meat products (cooked, raw and uncured)


Potato dishes (potato salad, mashed, etc.)




Plants rich in protein

Why Can TCS Foods and PHFs Become Dangerous?

 TCS foods use and/or contain the three elements that bacteria needs to multiply

1. Food

2. Moisture

3. Warmth

Small amounts of bacteria are not a problem, but when they multiply to large amounts foodborne illness can occur to those who eat these foods.

How Do We Keep TCS Foods and PHFs Safe To Eat?

These foods are kept safe by keeping the amount of time spent in temperatures (41°-145° F) to a minimum. Hence the phrase “time and temperature controls”. Minimize the time foods are kept in this temperature “danger zone”.

How Long Can Food Be Safely Left Out?

Cold foods are safe up to six hours as long as the internal temp stays below the threshold of 70°. Any food left out longer than four hours or whose temperature has risen above 70° should be tossed out. Any food whose temp has been unchecked should be tossed out at four hours.


Hot or “hot-held” foods can be served for four hours and thrown out after the four-hour mark.

How do I properly store TCS and PHF foods?

All TCS and PHF foods should be stored in a refrigerator, freezer, or heated countertop at the appropriate temperature. It’s important to keep track of the temperatures in each location to ensure that food is kept safe. Additionally, avoid cross-contamination by storing food separately and away from potential sources of contamination, such as raw meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. 

FDA Guidance When Cooling Foods

The FDA food code calls for a two-stage cooling process to be done in less than six hours.

Food should be cooled from 135°F to 70° F in two hours or less.

The food then should be cooled from 70°F to 40°F in four hours or less.

FDA Guidance When Warming Foods

Because the foods must be reheated in two hours or less it is recommended they be heated using an oven, microwave or stove because the proper temperature will not be reached if using warm “holding” equipment. Using the holding equipment would allow time for bacteria and pathogens to grow.

FAQs About TCS Foods and PHF :

Signs that a food has spoiled include a visible change in color, texture, or odor, as well as any signs of mold or bacteria growth. If you are unsure whether a food has gone bad, it is best to throw it out and buy a new one.

Use separate utensils, cutting boards, and wash hands thoroughly before, during, and after handling food. Use a thermometer to check cooked foods.

 If you think you have food poisoning, contact your healthcare provider and local health department.

Throw out leftover food immediately into a sealed container if it has been left out at an unsafe temperature or if it smells, looks, or tastes bad.

It is recommended that manufacturers and restaurants check the temperatures in their refrigerator and freezer at least twice a day with an accurate thermometer.

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Saro Loucks

Saro Loucks

HACCP Certified, food safety enthusiast.

Try it out today!

Give the FoodReady platform a try for free for 14 days.

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