Is It Safe to Leave Food in a Slow Cooker Overnight?

The convenience of using a slow cooker is what appeals to most people, but is it really safe to leave your slow cooker on overnight?

You can leave a slow cooker on overnight if it is on the low or high setting since this will keep the food at a safe cooking temperature. You should not leave your slow cooker on the warm setting overnight because it can cause the food to be overcooked.

That’s the quick answer for you, but for those of you who want more information, read on. We’ll cover everything you need to know about leaving your slow cooker on overnight and give you five slow cooker safety tips.

Can You Leave Food In a Slow Cooker Overnight?

Is it safe to leave food in a slow cooker overnight

Cooking in a slow cooker is super convenient, just add all your ingredients and let it cook. This can be handy to have dinner ready at the end of the day or even put food in and let it cook overnight.

You can leave food in a crock pot overnight if your slow cooker is on the low or high settings. Just follow a recipe so you don’t cook the food for too long and turn it to mush.

The low and high settings keep food at a high enough temperature that you won’t be in the ‘danger zone’ of temperatures.

According to the USDA, keeping food at temperatures between 40-140oF (i.e. room temperature) for a longer period of time will cause bacteria to grow in the food.

A slow cooker keeps food at 190-210oF on the low heat setting and up to 300oF on the high heat setting, well above the danger zone for bacteria growth.

This means that you can leave food in your slow cooker overnight as long as it is on the low or high setting. A programmable slow cooker will allow you to choose how long on each setting you want your slow cooker to cook at. Fancy.

You should NOT leave your slow cooker on overnight on the warm setting.

The warm setting on a slow cooker is made to keep food just above the 140oF threshold. This means that it will keep your food safe, but after a while, the food inside will start to be affected.

For a complete walkthrough of the temperatures of a slow cooker, check out this post: Slow Cooker Temperature: How to Cook Safely on Low and High

This raises another question, how long can you leave your slow cooker on the warm setting?

How Long Can You Leave Your Slow Cooker on Warm?

how long can you leave your slow cooker on warm

As I mentioned above, the warm setting on a slow cooker keeps your food just above the 140oF danger zone of food safety.

If you have an older crock pot or slow cooker, the warm setting temperature could vary which means you may not want to leave it on warm for more than two hours which is what the USDA recommends.

If you have a newer model, the warm setting should keep your food safe, but it will slowly affect the quality of the food inside.

What I mean by this is that the food in the slow cooker will continue the cooking process even on the warm setting. If left on too long, it could turn your food to flavorless mush and nobody wants that.

A good rule of thumb is to not leave the slow cooker on warm for more than 2-4 hours. After 4 hours the food will start to break down. Imagine leaving a pot on the stove on the lowest setting for four hours, not a good idea, right?

I would recommend storing your leftovers as quickly as possible once you’re done enjoying the food inside the crock pot. They’ll be just as tasty reheated.

Now that we’ve covered how long you can cook in a slow cooker, let’s talk about some safety tips to help crock pot cooking be a breeze.

Slow Cooker Safety Tips

can you leave food in a slow cooker overnight

Making a slow cooker meal is designed to be easy and no fuss. But, there are a few things you can do to help prevent any potential hazards and any foodborne illnesses.

There are five things you can do that are super easy and that can ensure your slow cooker meals are delicious and safe.

1. Follow A Recipe

The best thing you can do to make safe and delicious meals is to follow a recipe.

I know it seems pretty obvious but I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always follow recipes 100% of the time. In fact, I mostly use them as guidelines.

But, slow cooker cooking is the exception, especially when it comes to cooking times.

Slow-cooker recipes are designed and tested to make sure the food inside is fully cooked. So, when you’re using a slow cooker recipe, make sure you follow the cooking times they describe.

Failing to do so could cause a kitchen disaster.

If you’re not sure where to look for trusted slow cooker recipes, here is a link to Crock Pot’s website that has a ton of great options: Crock Pot Recipes.

2. Thaw Meat Before Cooking

Another thing that is essential for successful slow cooker meals is to make sure you thaw your meat before cooking it.

Starting with a frozen chunk of meat will affect the cooking times on the recipe which could leave you with raw meat instead of a fully cooked meal.

If you usually use frozen meats, it does take a little bit of forethought to put the meat in the fridge the day or two before you plan on using it. I’m guilty of forgetting to do this on many occasions.

You can also defrost your chosen protein in the microwave before placing it in the slow cooker. You just need to make sure it’s not a frozen brick.

3. Use A Kitchen Thermometer

This goes hand in hand with the first two tips. If you’re planning on cooking a large portion of meat like a pot roast or a turkey, use a kitchen thermometer to check the temperature of the food before eating.

Following a recipe will help, but some dishes may need to be cooked longer than the recipe says. This is most common to happen with large portions of meat like a large turkey but it’s a good practice to get into for every meal.

A food thermometer will help you ensure that what you’re cooking is to the safe temperature needed for consumption.

Here is a safe internal temperature table that shows the interal temperature you need depending on the type of food you’re cooking. This information came directly from the US Department of Agriculture.

ProductMinimum Internal Temperature & Rest Time
Beef, Pork, Veal & Lamb Steaks, chops, roasts145 °F (62.8 °C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Ground Meats160 °F (71.1 °C)
Ground Poultry165 °F
Ham, fresh or smoked (uncooked)145 °F (62.8 °C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Fully Cooked Ham (to reheat)Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140 °F (60 °C) and all others to 165 °F (73.9 °C).
All Poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, wings, ground poultry, giblets, and stuffings165 °F (73.9 °C)
Eggs160 °F (71.1 °C)
Fish & Shellfish145 °F (62.8 °C)
Leftovers and Casseroles165 °F (73.9 °C)

Follow these guidelines and you’ll be golden.

4. Don’t Overfill or Underfill Your Crockpot

When cooking in a crock pot, you should make sure that the recipe you are using is for the same size of crock pot that you have.

If you don’t, this could cause you to overfill or underfill the slow cooker.

Overfilling your crockpot can not only cause it to overflow, but it can cause undercooked food because it will take longer to heat all the ingredients inside leaving you with undercooked food at the end of the cooking time.

Underfilling your crock pot can cause the food inside to get overcooked or burnt and it could also damage the slow-cooker insert that holds your food.

Neither one of those scenarios would be enjoyable so make sure you stick to recipes for your crock pot size.

If you don’t know exactly what size your crock pot is, you can google the brand and serial number to find out. The serial number is usually found on the bottom side of the slow cooker itself or sometimes inside near the heating element.

This should tell you what size of crockpot you have so you can follow the correct recipes.

5. Store Leftovers Quickly

I’ve already touched on this a little bit but it’s worth mentioning again. When you’re making food with a slow cooker, you should try to store your leftovers as quickly as possible.

Leaving food out at room temperature will keep the food in the 40-140 degree danger zone that causes bacterial growth. Nobody wants wants food poisoning.

As a general guideline, you also don’t want to leave the crock pot on the warm setting for more than 4 hours since this could overcook the food.

So, once you’re done enjoying your meal, try to store your leftovers in the refrigerator right away.

What’s a Slow Cooker’s Temperature on Low, High, and Warm?

A slow cooker keeps food at 190-210oF on the low setting, up to 300oF on the high setting, and slightly above 140oF on the warm setting. For more details on a slow cookers temperature settings, read this post: Slow Cooker Temperature: How to Cook Safely on Low and High

How Much Electricity Does a Slow Cooker Use?

Using a slow cooker for 8 hours will use about 0.58kWh on the warm setting, 1.44kWh on the low setting, and 1.92kWh on the high setting. To learn what this means in plain English and how that compares to using an electric stove, check this out: How Much Electricity Does a Slow Cooker Use?

Does a Slow Cooker Need Water?

A slow cooker will need extra liquid added if you are making a soup or if the recipe calls for it. Some recipes won’t need extra liquid because the other ingredients, such as vegetables, will produce liquid as they cook. When in doubt, follow a recipe and check out this post for more info: Do Crock Pots Need Water? How Much to Add to a Slow Cooker


Leslie has lived in tons of different places that were all in different states of repair. She has experience remodeling and replacing just about everything in a home including the roof. When she's not working on a project, Leslie blogs about home improvement tips to pass on her knowledge to others.

Recent Posts