Can I keep hot food in my bain-marie for more than three hours?

17 April 2008
Can I keep hot food in my bain-marie for more than three hours?

I'm concerned about the performance of my bain-marie. I want it to hold hot food at temperature throughout the lunchtime service - about three hours - in open containers. Is this reasonable? Most of the food stays at an acceptable temperature for only an hour - in some cases, only 45 minutes.

Although the Food Standards Agency (FSA) offers no specific guideline on how long food can be kept hot - presumably because different foods will have different heat retention characteristics - three hours is almost certainly longer than desirable.

The FSA says the temperature of hot food kept in a bain-marie should be checked after it has been stirred, to ensure accurate readings. This is fine for foods like casseroles and custard - but where it's not possible - for example, with foods like lasagne or fruit pie - you should not serve food if the core temperature reading falls below 60°C. The FSA also firmly places responsibility on the operator to ensure that food is safe.

In terms of food quality, the best solution is to portion the food and replenish the containers throughout lunch, so that food is kept in them for only an hour or so.

For more advice

Visit and click on the link "CESA Buying Guides." For energy-saving advice click on "CESA Energy Saver."

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