Most people think that they can tell if food is thoroughly cooked by looking at its color or texture. Research conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that, in many cases, you can’t tell if food is thoroughly cooked and safe to eat just by looking at it. “The only way to know for sure that food is safely cooked is to use food thermometer,” says Gainesville Memorial Hospital clinical dietitian Kathie Robinson.
“Cooking food until it reaches a safe internal temperature is a key step in keeping food safe,” explains Robinson. “Food needs to be cooked to a temperature high enough to kill bacteria. If food isn’t cooked to a high enough temperature, harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli can multiply to dangerous levels and make people sick.”
Americans typically use a food thermometer when cooking holiday and other special meals. “It is important to use a thermometer every time hamburgers, roasts, chicken, pork, egg casseroles, and combination dishes such as meat loaves are prepared,” stresses Robinson. “Not only will you reduce the chances of getting a foodborne illness, you will find that using a food thermometer helps prevent undercooking and overcooking, giving your food the best possible flavor.”
To get an accurate reading, food thermometers must be placed correctly. Typically, the food thermometer is placed in the thickest portion of the food. Food with irregular shapes should be checked in several places. Use the following guide to accurately check food temperatures:
Whole poultry – insert the thermometer in the inner thigh near the breast. Make sure the thermometer does not touch the bone.
Roasts, steaks and chops – insert the thermometer in the middle of the thickest part, away from fat and bone.
Casseroles and egg dishes – insert the thermometer in the thickest area or in the middle.
Patties and other thin foods – insert an instant-read thermometer sideways (at an angle).
What are considered safe internal temperatures? The USDA provides the following temperature guidelines.
FOOD Safe internal temperature
GROUND MEAT (beef, pork, veal, lamb)
FRESH BEEF, VEAL, LAMB
Medium rare 145
Well done 170
CHICKEN and TURKEY
Breasts, roast 170
Thighs, wings, legs 180
DUCK and GOOSE 180
STUFFING (cooked inside or outside bird) 165
Well done 170
EGGS Cook until yolk and white are firm
EGG DISHES 160