The only way to ensure that food is cooked to the proper temperature, eliminating harmful bacteria, is to use a food thermometer. Contaminated food cannot be easily identified visually, by taste, or smell.
According to a study conducted by the RTI International, Tennessee State University and Kansas State University, less than two-thirds of consumers own a food thermometer. Of those who do, less than 10 percent actually use it to check for doneness of all types of poultry.
Food temperature is one of the most critical factors in fighting food-borne illnesses. Bacteria can slowly grow on food at low temperatures, only to multiply at mid-range temperatures. Foods cooked at a high temperature can eliminate harmful bacteria. While people may only use thermometers for a whole chicken, turkey, or large pieces of, such as a pot roast, the do not for everyday cooking. Instead, they rely on visual cues such as color, firmness, and clear juices, because the cookbook says, “cook until the juice runs clear” or “cook until no longer pink inside.” None of these are accurate indicators of doneness.
USDA research revealed that the “color test” can give consumers misleading information since cooked color varies considerably. For example, freezing and thawing may influence a meat’s tendency to brown prematurely. For example, a chicken breast could turn white, but still be less than 165 degrees F, enough to prevent salmonella. Using a thermometer is the only way to be 100% sure that all bacteria have been killed. The safe minimum internal temperature varies by food. According to the USDA:
- Poultry, casseroles and leftovers should be heated to 165 degrees F
- Ground meats and egg dishes need to be at least 160 degrees F.
- Fresh beef, pork, veal, lamb and ham should reach 145 degrees F and then rest for at least three minutes.
- Fish should also be cooked to 145 degrees F.
In addition to food safety, a food thermometer means preventing overcooking, keeping flavor and juices intact. It also takes the guesswork out of cooking some food. Always place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the meat so it isn’t touching fat, bone or gristle. For hamburgers or thin cuts, insert the thermometer sideways into the edge for an accurate reading. Always clean the stem of your food thermometer with hot water and detergent before and after use but do not immerse the thermometer’s head in water.
Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to go rummaging in the drawer to dig out the food thermometer. Ensure safety is first in your kitchen by making a food thermometer part of your everyday cooking.
Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.