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What is a heat-treated plant food?

A heat-treated plant food is a heated menu item that is solely derived from a plant source.  These foods can contain no animal products.  According to the U.S. Food Code (2005), heat-treated plant foods are classified as potentially hazardous unless they are determined to be non-potentially hazardous.  If the heat-treated plant food is determined to be non-potentially hazardous, then time/temperature control is not required (see below for a list of those foods that are non-potentially hazardous).  This determination is to be made by Child Nutrition Services and not by individual schools.  All heat-treated plant foods that are classified as potentially hazardous must be cooked to at least 135 degrees F and hot-held at this temperature.

In the U.S. Food Code (2005) there are two temperature guidelines given for heat-treated plant foods -- one for plant food that is cooked for immediate service, which can be cooked to any temperature, and the second for heated-plant foods to be hot-held.  All foods prepared as part of the Child Nutrition program are intended to be hot-held so the temperature guideline for heat treated plant foods for hot-holding must be used.  Thus, heat-treated plant foods must be cooked to at least 135 degrees F and held at this same temperature.

Some heat-treated plant foods have been determined to be non-potentially hazardous. For example, marinara sauce or a spaghetti sauce with no meat are both typically thought of as non-potentially hazardous.  But, if either sauce was scratch prepared using Roma tomatoes then further testing of the final product would be needed to determine if it was potentially hazardous.  Until product testing was completed, both types of sauce would need to be hot-held at 135 degrees F or hotter.  (Remember -- fresh cut tomatoes are now classified as potentially hazardous due to the variation of pH in tomatoes.) If either sauce was prepared from canned ingredients then it would be non-potentially hazardous.

Fruit cobbler prepared from canned, sweetened filling usually has enough sugar to render it non-potentially hazardous. However, if it were prepared from scratch using fresh fruit, the final pH and water activity would need to be checked to make sure that it is non-potentially hazardous.  Again, until product testing was completed, the cobbler would need to be cooked to at least 135 degrees F and held at this temperature.

If you are not certain if a heat-treated plant food that appears on your menu is potentially hazardous, please contact your School Meals Initiative Consultant.  

Heated Plant Foods that are Non-Potentially Hazardous

  • Fruit cobbler made with canned, sweetened filling
  • Marinara sauce made from canned tomatoes
  • Spaghetti sauce with no meat made from canned tomatoes