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It goes without saying that slow cookers are a convenient way to cook delicious, hassle-free meals on those busy weeknights. Within a few hours, ingredients will meld into an amazing dish—a true testament to the motto, set-it-and-forget-it.

Yet in spite of its convenience and ease, there is one thing you shouldn’t throw in the slow cooker without a little preparation beforehand: frozen meat.

While many recipes in the past called for frozen meat to be added to slow cookers, creating the misconception that this method was safe, we’re now learning that it’s not. In fact, the USDA considers it a serious health hazard.

The Danger Zone

According to the USDA Slow Cookers and Food Safety guidelines, home cooks should avoid using frozen poultry or meat in a slow cooker. Rather, they advise to always thaw meat before adding it to the pot, preferably via a refrigerator.

The USDA pointed out that while many slow cookers are capable of cooking food between a safe 170° to 280°F, the time it takes for the appliance to warm up is where problems can occur. During that waiting period, all meat should be stored in the refrigerator to prevent bacteria from multiplying.

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This recommendation is even more important in the case of frozen meats. Frozen poultry or meat sitting in a slow cooker may have a greater chance of entering the “danger zone,” a temperature range between 40°F and 140°F where harmful bacteria can grow rapidly.

While it might not be as convenient as pulling that roast out of the freezer and plopping it straight into the crock pot, the potential illness risk isn’t worth it. If you’re looking to cook frozen meat, choosing a method like a pressure cooker or an oven is a better option.

Another bonus tip: forgo the timer. The USDA recommends allowing the cooker to run on low rather than shutting it down entirely. The reason? As long as the slow cooker is running, your food is safe. But, if it remains off, the more likely it is to fall into that danger zone. Also, be sure to refrigerate all leftovers within two hours of cooking.

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