Food Safety Issues/Sugar to fat safety ratio


Hi I help with a Baking contest every summer (for county 4H'ers and Scouts) and we tell them their recipes must be "food safe" to be accepted, as we are unable to refrigerate the volume of entries we receive. Some of our advisors say that safety is related to the total amount of dairy or fat in the recipe but I maintain that it is the ratio of sugars to dairy/fat that is important. I do not think that 1/4 cup is always safe regardless of what it is mixed with, why would a double batch spoil quicker?  example 4 Tblsp. of milk mixed with 2 cups of powdered sugar in a frosting is safe where as 8 Tblsp of milk mixed with 4 cups of powdered sugar is not(just example not a recipe!). Is there a safety ratio that we should be following or a food safety site we should refer members to?  Thank you

Hi Debbie,

First...thank you for volunteering your time with the young people in your county.  I was involved with 4-H and today judge many 4-H County Fairs so I know the time and effort you put forward to make this event a reality for your participants.

Actually, the determination of whether a food is safe to be stored at room temperature is based upon both the water activity level (Aw) and the Ph of the product. Basically the higher the pH the lower the water activity must be for it to be safe at room temperature.  

Texas has done some testing of frostings and baked goods to see what the Aw and pH of the product is and they published a cookbook with these tested recipes. You can purchase a downloadable book for $8.99 that contains 24 recipes that have been tested ( In this booklet they also have a chart that outlines the water activity of pH levels that need to be obtained for a food to be labeled as "non-potentially hazardous" and capable of being at room temperature.

As they point out in this publication: "reported test results are not guaranteed and may vary from your actual experience." What that means is that these are the results that got from their lab for their recipe but you may not get the exact same results if you make the recipe and take it to your lab.

So the only way to definitively know if a frosting recipe that contains dairy products is safe to be stored at room temperature is to have it tested for both it's water activity and pH.

With all that said I'm thinking that this is getting way to complicated for a 4-H baking contest and it might just be simpler to come out with general rules.  Below are examples from a couple of counties on how they handle baked goods in their 4-H shows.

I hope this is helpful as you prepare for next year's baking contest.  If I can be of further assistance, please let me know.


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Carol Schlitt


I can answer questions on home food safety, sanitation and home food preservation.


I am a former Extension educator, nutrition, wellness and food safety, having retired August 1, 2010. I am a food safety instructor for the Illinois Department of Public Health, a ServSafe Instructor/Proctor and have my own company, Safe & Savory Solutions, Inc -

National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (Past President and current Historian), St. Louis Culinary Society.

BS - University of Illinois MS - Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville

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