startAbout UsFor ConsumersFor FoodserviceFor Educators

 Define "potentially hazardous food."

A potentially hazardous food is a natural or synthetic food that needs to be held at 41°F or colder or 135°F or hotter because it is in a form capable of supporting:

  • the rapid and progressive growth of infectious or toxigenic bacteria
  • the growth and toxin production of Clostridium botulinum or
  • in raw shell eggs, the growth of Salmonella Enteritidis

Potentially hazardous foods include foods of animal origin that are raw or heat-treated, a food of plant origin that is heat-treated or consists of raw seed sprouts, cut melons, and garlic-in-oil mixtures that have not been properly acidified to prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria.

Potentially hazardous food does not include:

  • An air-cooled hard-boiled egg with shell intact, or a shell egg that is not hard-boiled, but has been treated to destroy all viable Salmonella, such as pasteurized in the shell eggs;
  • A food with a water activity value of 0.85 or less, such as jams or jellies;
  • A food with a pH level of 4.6 or below when measured at 75°F, such as properly prepared sushi rice or pickles;
  • A food, in an unopened hermetically sealed container, that is commercially processed to achieve and maintain commercial sterility under conditions of nonrefrigerated storage and distribution;
  • A food for which laboratory evidence demonstrates that the rapid and progressive growth of pathogens cannot occur.
  • A food that does not support the growth of pathogenic microorganisms even though the food may contain an infectious or toxigenic microorganism or chemical or physical contaminant at a level sufficient to cause illness.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2001. Food Code. The complete publication is available on-line at: