Using and calibrating your food thermometer this Thanksgiving

Calibrate your thermometer before taking the internal temperature of your Thanksgiving turkey.

As Michigan State University Extension Educators who teach food safety programs, we are always educating about and recommending that consumers purchase a food thermometer, calibrate their thermometers and use them consistently in order to cook food to safe temperatures and help prevent foodborne illness. With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching and turkeys being purchased for wonderful holiday dinners, make sure to purchase (or find) your bimetallic stemmed instant read thermometer. Calibrating any thermometers that you plan to use is equally as important as actually using a thermometer to check the internal temperatures of the turkey and stuffing.

Using a calibrated food thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure the food is safe to eat and to determine desired "doneness" of meat, poultry, and egg products. You must cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit as measured with that calibrated food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For optimum safety, do not stuff poultry. If stuffing whole poultry, the center of the stuffing must also reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

To properly use the thermometer, the thermometer probe must be inserted the full length of the sensing area (usually 2 to 3 inches up the thermometer stem).  Always refer to manufacturer's instructions if you have questions regarding your specific thermometer.

How to calibrate your food thermometer

Before using the thermometer on Thanksgiving morning, calibrating the thermometer is an important step to take. Many food thermometers have a calibration nut under the dial that can be adjusted. Check the package for instructions. To calibrate using the ice point method is very simple when you follow the steps below:

  • Fill a large glass with crushed ice.
  • Add water to the top of the ice and stir well.
  • Place the stem of the food thermometer at least 2 inches into the ice water without touching the sides or the bottom of the glass.
  • Wait a minimum of 30 seconds before adjusting.
  • Without removing the stem from the ice, hold the adjusting nut under the head of the thermometer and turn the head so the arrow reads 32 degrees F.

The calibrated thermometer can now be used to check your holiday turkey for doneness. Enjoy!

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