Food thermometers

Do you know the best and worst way to know if meat is thoroughly cooked?

Odds are you have one, but that you don’t actually use it. What is it? A food or meat thermometer. A recent study in RTI International found that while roughly 60 percent of Americans own a food thermometer, less than 10 percent use it on a regular basis. Cooking foods, especially meat, to a proper internal temperature can kill illness causing bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli. Many people use indicators like meat or juice color to determine the doneness of their chicken, turkey, burgers and other meat, but for many reasons, these are not reliable or recommended methods.

For one, color is a subjective characteristic and everyone’s interpretation of “brown” or “pink” may be different. It is also true that, in the case of ground beef, some meat will brown and appear to be done at temperatures as low as 131 degrees Fahrenheit, but pathogens commonly found on ground beef aren’t killed until an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. There are also instances in which ground beef will retain a pink hue despite reaching proper temperatures. This is due to pH level, pigment and fat content of the meat. Using a meat thermometer is the only sure way to know whether or not your burgers are done and safe to eat.

When it comes to poultry, most of us think of the Thanksgiving turkey that comes with a pop-up thermometer. Any and all poultry you cook should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Another study related to meat thermometer use noted that although many people use thermometers for whole chickens or turkeys, almost no one surveyed used one for poultry pieces or mixed dishes that include poultry. Again, using color as an indicator is an unsafe practice, as one part of the chicken may be done, but other pieces might not. When checking doneness of poultry, make sure to put the probe in multiple locations to get an accurate picture of internal temperatures. Also take the internal temperatures of all pieces of the chicken. For example, if you are baking six breast pieces, each one might cook differently based on size. Don’t forget to clean your thermometer probe between readings to avoid cross-contamination.

Food or meat thermometers are fairly inexpensive, and will save you the worry of “is it done enough?” Never rely on color or texture as an indicator of whether or not meat is safe to eat. Make sure to get a thermometer that has a wide enough range for what you’re cooking, and calibrate it often. Remember, just because it looks cooked, doesn’t mean it’s reached a temperature that will kill bacteria. Michigan State University Extension recommends always using a meat thermometer before consuming or serving meat and poultry.

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