Are you a truthful cook?

Do you fib about using a thermometer to check the temperatures of the food your cook?

Are you a truthful cook or do you fib about using a thermometer to check temperatures of the food you cook? If you fib, that's a pity, because a thermometer used properly is the best indicator of whether food has been cooked enough to kill bad bugs like salmonella, campylobacter, E. coli and listeria. Only about 20 percent of Americans say they regularly use a food thermometer to make sure they prepared food safely, according to a survey by the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods. Food safety experts say that a fair number of these people may more than likely be fibbing!

Here are a few reasons the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends using a food thermometer:

  • You can’t tell if the food has reached a safe internal temperature just by looking at it. Looking at the color of the food is not enough – you have to use a thermometer to be sure, color is no longer an indicator. One out of four hamburgers turns brown in the middle before it has reached a safe internal temperature, according to the USDA.
  • It helps you avoid overcooking. Using a food thermometer keeps you safe from harmful bacteria and avoids overcooking, keeping the product juicy and flavorful!
  • Food thermometers reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Just like washing your hands before you prepare a meal, getting into the habit of checking the internal temperature of food, especially meat, poultry and egg dishes, reduces the chance of foodborne illness. The use of a food thermometer is the only definite way of knowing if your food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy harmful bacteria.

Tips for using a food thermometer:

  • Use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature toward the end of the cooking time, but before the food is expected to be done.
  • Insert the food thermometer into the thickest part of the food, making sure it doesn't touch bone, fat or gristle.
  • Compare your thermometer reading to the Recommended Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures chart to determine if your food has reached a safe temperature.
  • Make sure to clean your food thermometer with hot, soapy water before and after each use. Do not immerse into the water.

Thermometers come in all shapes and sizes – digital probes for the oven and microwave, dial oven-safe and even disposable temperature indicators. Know the difference between the thermometers. Some are made for an instant read temperature, others are designed to be left in a piece of meat and put in the oven for the entire roasting period. Don’t mix them up, they are not interchangeable!

An instant read thermometer will cost about $5. A digital thermometer will start at $10 and could go into the hundreds of dollars, depending how many bells and whistles you want on it.

The other important maintenance piece for your thermometer is to calibrate it on a regular basis to make sure your readings are accurate. For an instant read:

  1. Fill a glass with ice. Add tap water until the container is full.
  2. Put the thermometer stem or probe into the water. Make sure the sensing area is under water. Wait 30 seconds or until the indicator stops moving. Do not let the probe touch the container.
  3. Adjust the thermometer so it reads 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Bimetallic stemmed thermometers – hold the calibration nut with a wrench or other tool. Rotate the thermometer head until it reaches 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Digital thermometers – follow manufacturer’s directions. On some devices you can press a reset button.

Is your food thermometer pushed to the back of the utensil drawer? Don’t wait until the holidays to pull it out of the drawer and use it, or worse yet never use it! Michigan State University Extension encourages you to use it whenever you’re cooking meat, poultry and even egg dishes. It's the only reliable way to make sure you are preparing a safe and delicious meal for your family. A food thermometer should be a kitchen gadget that is used daily to keep you and your family safe.

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