Using Food Thermometers
Welcome to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service Food Safety at home
podcast series. These podcasts were designed with you in mind - the consumer - who
purchases and prepares meat, poultry and processed egg products
for your family and friends.
Each episode will bring you a different food safety topic ranging from safe storage, handling,
and preparation of meat, poultry and processed egg products to the importance of keeping
foods safe during a power outage.
So sit back, turn up the volume and listen in.
Welcome to “Food Safety at Home.” This is Gertie Hurley with the Food Safety and
Inspection Service. I’m your host for this segment. With me today is Diane Van, Manager
of the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline. In this segment, we’re going to find out how to
cook food safely using a food thermometer.
Hi, Diane. Welcome to the show.
Thank you, Gertie. I’m glad to be here.
Diane, before we begin, I’d like to share something with you and our listeners.
To prepare for this segment, I did a quick survey with some people in our office building
on how they cook. I asked three people, “How do you tell if your meat or poultry is done?”
Here’s what they told me.
“I cut into the meat to be sure it’s not pink inside.”
“I check to see that the meat is not bloody.”
“Even though it’s brown on the outside, when I feel I have cooked it, I take a small knife
and cut into the meat. I don’t leave any pink; I cook it well done.”
Diane, this is the typical response that I get when I ask some people about their method
to test food for doneness. As a whole, they consistently say that they cook food until
it looks done to them. They’re using sight as a gage to tell if the food is done. But,
that’s not a safe method to use, is it?
No, Gertie, it’s not safe at all, and we don’t recommend it. Food safety experts agree;
food is safe to eat when it is cooked or reheated to a high enough temperature to kill
harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Millions of people get sick from dangerous
bacteria in food every year.
The only accurate way to know if food is cooked safely is to measure the internal temperature
of cooked meat, poultry, and egg products with a food thermometer. Color and texture are
not reliable indicators of safely cooked food.
How do you use a food thermometer?
Place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food. Make sure it’s not touching
fat, bone or gristle. For whole poultry, insert the thermometer in the innermost part
of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. Casseroles that are made with
eggs or contain ground meat or poultry should be checked in several places with a food
Could you tell us about the different types of food thermometers and also temperature
indicators? And by the way, what are temperature indicators?
Sure. There are five basic types of food thermometers. They are the Dial Oven-Safe,
the Digital Instant-Read, the Dial Instant-Read, the Disposable
Temperature Indicators, and the Pop-Up.
The Dial Oven-Safe reads the temperature in 1 to 2 minutes. To use it, place
the thermometer 2 to 2-1/2” in the thickest part of the food. This type is best used in
roasts, whole poultry, casseroles and soups, and may be left in the food while cooking.
The Digital Instant-Read reads the temperature in 10 seconds. Place the thermometer
in at least 1/2” deep. You can use this thermometer in both thin and thick foods, but
this thermometer should not be left in the food during cooking.
The Dial Instant-Read reads the temperature in 15 to 20 seconds. Place the thermometer
2 to 2-1/2” deep in the thickest part of the food. Do not leave the thermometer in the
food while in the oven.
The Disposable Temperature Indicators are single-use and read the temperature
in 5 to 10 seconds. Place the thermometer approximately 1/2” deep in the meat or poultry
and follow the manufacturer’s directions.
The Pop-Up thermometer is commonly used in turkeys and roasting chickens and
does what its name says. It pops up when the cooked food reaches a final temperature for
safety and doneness. To be safe, we recommend using an additional food thermometer to
check the minimum internal temperature in other parts of the food.
Diane, what are some other pointers to remember when using a food thermometer?
Make sure you wait the recommended amount of time for your particular type of thermometer.
Also make sure your thermometer reading reaches a safe minimum internal temperature
to ensure that your food is safe.
Diane, here at USDA, we recommend that people cook food to a safe minimum internal temperature.
What do we mean when we use the term, “safe minimum internal temperature?”
Safe minimum internal temperature means that the food is cooked to the minimum temperature
needed to kill the harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.
What are a few examples of safe minimum internal temperatures for meat and poultry?
USDA recommends cooking ground beef and all cuts of pork to a safe minimum internal temperature
of 160 °F. Other meats such as beef, veal and lamb, steaks and roasts should be cooked
to a safe minimum internal temperature of 145 °F. Poultry, casseroles and leftovers should
reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.
How should a food thermometer be cleaned?
Clean your food thermometer with hot, soapy water before and after each use!
How can a person learn more about using food thermometers, Diane?
Consumers can visit the FSIS Web site at www.fsis.usda.gov.
That's www.fsis.usda.gov. Consumers can also get answers to food safety questions online
from our virtual representative “Ask Karen” at www.askkaren.gov,
or call our toll-free number, USDA’s Meat & Poultry Hotline, at 1-888-MPHotline. That’s
That’s it for this week. We’ve been talking to Diane Van, manager of the USDA Meat and
Thank you so much, Diane, for your helpful information about the safe use of food thermometers.
I’m Gertie Hurley and I’d like to thank you for joining us for this episode of “Food Safety
at Home.” And remember, “Be Food Safe.”
Well, that’s all for this time. Thanks for joining us today for another episode of
food safety at home!
For answers to your food safety questions call USDA's toll-free meat and poultry hotline
at 1-888-mphotline. That’s 1-888-674-6854.
You can also get answers to food safety questions online from our virtual representative
"ask karen" at www.askkaren.gov .
Let us know what you think of this podcast by sending your comments to
Thanks for tuning in.
Last Modified: November 10, 2008