How long can you leave food in a Slow Cooker?

In this brief guide, we will answer the question, ‘How long can you leave food in a Slow Cooker?’. We will study how a slow cooker works and why it might be unsafe to leave food in a slow cooker for a long time.

How long can you leave food in a Slow Cooker?

You can leave the food in a Slow Cooker for 2 hours after the food attains room temperature.

How does a Slow Cooker work?

A slow cooker is a terrific appliance to make the cooking process efficient. Even though a slow cooker will turn itself off, you must not leave food in for too long.

A slow cooker could take up to 24 hours to cook your food. Slow cookers make your life easy and, you can forget about the food getting burnt for at least a few hours. The automatic option lets you keep the food warm, so you can forget about reheating or worrying about spoiling. However, if your food is in the slow cooker, this does not mean; it is resistant to spoilage. If it is on, you risk the food getting over-cooked, or spoiling in the warm setting.

After 20 hours, the appliance cuts off power and, no more heat is allowed to reach the pan or the food in.

What is the indicated time on a slow cooker?

On average, slow cookers take around 8-12 hours to cook a meal to the finalization. Some recipes need longer to cook, up to 24 hours. 

How advanced can slow cookers get?

While older slow cookers demanded that you manually switch the setting to warm, the newer ones do so automatically. The temperature sensors turn the cooker off, maintain a temperature or switch to warm mode.

However, if your slow cooker could maintain a designated temperature, it may not be safe to do. 

How long can you leave food in a slow cooker? (turned off versus warm setting)

If the slow cooker completely turns off, the food may stay safe for a shorter while. As the temperature changes more sharply from the cooking temperature to room temperature, you put your food at risk.

In such a case, you can leave your food at room temperature for 2 hours only, starting from the time the food inside the slow cooker has cooled down.

Even though you must not leave the slow cooker in the warm setting for long, it will stay safer for a while longer, as the temperature does not deviate much drastically from the cooking temperature.

What happens when you leave food in the Slow cooker for long?

Some food such as vegetables and chicken could become mushy if you leave them in the slow cooker for long. Even if the food in the slow cooker does not spoil, it could be detrimental to the texture and the quality.  

A slow cooker will not get the food warm enough to prevent bacterial contamination. Transfer the food from the slow cooker to the refrigerator; if the food in the slow cooker drops near to room temperature.

Why is storing food in the slow cooker for long a breach of food safety?

According to the USDA, Food will become unsafe if kept at a temperature greater than 140 Fahrenheit for over 2 hours.

The USDA also suggests that the temperature of 40 F to 140 F labels as The Danger Zone. This range of temperature encourages bacterial growth. 

If food stays at room temperature for more than 2 hours, you might need to throw it away. The food in the slow cooker must not make it to such a vulnerable temperature; otherwise, the food will unfit for consumption.  Room temperature or higher encourages bacterial growth that can cause food poisoning and make a person sick.

Other FAQs about Slow Cooker which you may be interested in.

How much power does a slow cooker use?

Can you dry cook in a slow cooker?

Can you overcook in a slow cooker?

How long can you leave food in a slow cooker if an interruption occurs?

Unfortunately, if you are in the middle of cooking or warming in the slow cooker and an interruption occurs, your food might spoil.

While cooking in a slow cooker, if you experience a power outage, you could transfer the food to a stove or a grill and cook it to completion. 

If your food was fully cooked when the slow cooker turned off, it would stay safe for up to 2 hours, after which it enters the danger zone.

Also, you can not reheat food in the slow cooker. If you stored the cooked food elsewhere or turned the slow cooker off completely, do not warm it in the slow cooker.

The speed at which food warms in the slow cooker is not sufficient to keep the food safe for consumption. 

You could reheat it on the stove, microwave, or oven and then transfer it to the slow cooker to keep it warm for hours.

In this brief guide, we answered the question, ‘How long can you leave food in a Slow Cooker?’. We studied how a slow cooker works and why it might be unsafe to leave food in a slow cooker for a long time.


Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.