Forgot to thaw the chicken that you were planning on throwing in the slow cooker for dinner? Make another plan for tonight's meal.

“Food should be completely thawed before you put it in a slow cooker,” says Maribel Alonso, a technical information specialist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “If you put in a block of frozen food, it may take too long for the food to reach a safe temperature.”

In other words, the food may spend more than two hours in the “danger zone."

What's the danger zone?

"Bacteria can double in as little as 20 minutes at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees," Alonso explains.

And if your slow cooker has a “delayed start” feature, think twice before you use it. If the food sits in the cooker at room temperature for more than two hours, you’re smack in the danger zone.

Instead, get a slow cooker that automatically switches to “warm” after the food is cooked.

The bottom line

Never let food spend more than two hours in the “danger zone.”

Photo: devrim_pinar/