What are TCS Foods?

Saro Loucks
Saro Loucks

Last updated: February 23, 2024

What are TCS Foods

If you work in food manufacturing, processing, or food service, you must know how to deal with easily perishable foods. It’s important to understand what influences the safety and quality of certain foods, especially those that require the most attention.

In this blog, let’s discuss the TCS foods meaning, examples, the importance of maintaining the food safety of TCS, and many other essential questions.

What are TCS Foods?

Foods that grow bacteria and pathogens quickly and easily and require Time and Temperature Controls for Safety 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 are not controlled.

What Does TCS and PHF Stand For?

Yes, more food safety initialisms. TCS stands for Time and Temperature Controls for Safety, and PHF stands for Potentially Hazardous Food.  

Why is it crucial to keep TCS and PHF foods safe?

You must monitor TCS or PHF foods for safety, regulatory compliance, and financial reasons.

Firstly, food safety is the most obvious reason. You must protect your customers from any risks of foodborne illnesses. It’s crucial to prevent diseases and ensure public health.

Secondly, you will adhere to state and federal regulations regarding food safety, such as FDA or GMP. Otherwise, you risk losing your business. If you want to pass the GFSI audit or any other certification, you will also be checked for how you treat TCS foods.

Lastly, an irresponsible attitude towards TCS food can lead to waste and recalls that affect a company’s budget. What’s more, not only does a manufacturer or caterer lose money but also the customer who pays to get a quality product. A thoughtful approach can save you time, money, and a client.

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!

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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. Some foods like fruits and vegetables, seafood, etc, have higher moisture content, which leads to faster bacterial growth.
  • They have higher protein and carbohydrate levels. Protein and carbohydrates support the spread of bacteria in food.
  • They are neutral or slightly acidic in nature. Bacteria grow less in acidic environments, whereas low acidity boosts their growth.

It’s essential to pay attention to these aspects. Refrigeration and proper storage will extend the food’s shelf life and prevent contamination and foodborne illnesses.

Is there a difference between TCS and PHF foods?

Yes. TCS (Time/Temperature Control for Safety) food must be kept at safe temperatures of 40°F or below, or 140°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 40°F or below, and 140°F or above. Both types of food must never be left in the “Danger Zone” – between 40°F and 140°F – where bacteria can multiply quickly.

Danger zone for food and safe temperatures for foods

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

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular TCS Food Examples:

  • 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 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 for 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. 

Food packaging can also help store and transport TCS food according to safety norms, as it protects the food from cross-contamination. Also, different types of packaging can prolong the shelf life of a TCS food product. For example, vacuum packaging makes food last longer, protecting it from oxygen and microorganisms.

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.

Handle TCS foods with a digital solution.

FoodReady is a food safety software that will assist you with managing and digitizing food safety operations.

The software has robust temperature and environmental monitoring features that will help you control the TCS foods in the required conditions and identify any potential hazards or issues.

Apart from temperature monitoring, you’ll receive a comprehensive set of tools like document management, batch and lot traceability, supplier management, CAPA, and HACCP builder. You can also use the help of our food safety consultants to comply with State, USDA, or FDA regulations.

Start a 14-day free trial now, or contact our sales team to get a demo!

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.

In this article

Saro Loucks

Saro Loucks

HACCP Certified, food safety enthusiast.

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