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What does TCS food mean?

Caroline PriceAuthor

Most restaurants have some TCS foods on their menu, and properly storing and serving these items are key to preventing foodborne illnesses. Here’s a primer on what TCS food is, how to recognize them, and how to make sure that you’re properly and safely serving your customers. 

What is a TCS food?

We all know that food safety is essential, and TCS regulations are key to keeping your guests healthy. But what does TCS stand for in the food business? TCS stands for Time/Temperature Control for Safety, explains StateFoodSafety in this helpful poster. Some foods are more susceptible to bacteria growth, and temperature and time are key to preventing foodborne illnesses. 

These items are referred to as TCS foods and treated differently than those that are not at high risk for bacterial growth in certain conditions. These foods must be kept at a certain temperature, and can only be left in room temperature for a certain amount of time. Essentially, these items should be outside of the “danger zone” — that is, below 41 degrees Fahrenheit or above 135 degrees Fahrenheit — at all times, except in the small windows just before eating, while being quickly chilled, or quickly heated. 

And there are other regulations as well: ready-to-eat TCS food must be marked with the date by which it must be sold, and there are specific amounts of time that foods can be at room temperature. 

What food is considered a TCS food?

Acidity, moisture, packaging, and production are all factors that go into determining if a food is TCS. Low acidity (typically a PH between 4.6 and 7.5) and high moisture content provide a breeding ground for bacteria, especially when kept at room temperature. 

What is a TCS food example? 

Here are some examples of common TCS foods: 

  1. Meat 

  2. Eggs

  3. Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.) 

  4. Fish and shellfish 

  5. Cut-up fruits and vegetables 

  6. Soy 


Here are some common questions about TCS regulations. 

What is the maximum temperature at which cold TCS food may be stored?  

The maximum internal temperature for a cold TCS food is below 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

How long can ready-to-eat TCS food be stored in a cooler? 

This depends on the temperature and insulation of the cooler. It all comes down to the temperature of the food, so trial and error with your individual cooler might be necessary to determine how effective it is at keeping the temperature below 41 degrees. Temperature checking and logging is key!

How long can TCS foods be left out? 

TCS food should be left out for no more than 4 hours. Any temperature between 41 and 135 degrees is considered the “danger zone” for bacterial growth

The University of Minnesota explains it this way: 

“The longer food is in the temperature danger zone, the more time pathogens have to grow. The goal is to reduce the amount of time TCS food spends in the temperature danger zone,” they explained. “If food is held in this range for four or more hours, you must throw it out. It’s better to check temps every two hours and take corrective action when needed.”

Hot TCS food should be received at what temperature?

Hot TCS foods should be above 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

Safety is Key

Awareness and diligence around TCS foods are the best way to ensure that all customers stay safe and free of any foodborne illnesses. For more information on restaurant food safety, check out this post


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