What are TCS Foods?

Or Why Time and Temperature Controls are Important for Food Safety

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By Luke Duffy

TCS food, PCFs, deli meat, time and temperature controls, FDA guidance, food safety software

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 PCFs because they become hazardous to health if bacteria and pathogen growth is not controlled. Please read on for more information on FDA guidance of TCS and PCFs.



What makes up a TCS food or PCF?

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

                                     FDA chart


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

  • 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)
  • Eggs
  • Potato dishes (potato salad, mashed, etc.)
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Dairy
  • Plants rich in protein

Why Can TCS Foods and PCFs Become Dangerous?

 TCS foods use and/or contain the three elements that bacteria needs to multiply 1. Food 2. Moisture and 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 PCFs 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.


FDA Guidance When Cooling Foods?

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

  1. Food should be cooled from 135°F to 70° F in two hours or less.
  2. The food then should be cooled from 70°F to 40°F in four hours or less.

FDA Guidance When Warming Foods?

  1. When rewarming foods they should reach a minimum of 165°F in two hours or less.
  2. 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.

Our FoodReady.ai food safety app and food safety software is able to integrate to an external thermometer helping you keep track of proper refrigeration temperatures for all your TCS foods.