Food temperature goes beyond simply serving hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
Food temperature is a critical marker when ensuring food safety and preventing harmful foodborne illnesses.
Diners can become ill when bacteria multiply to dangerous levels in food. Bacteria can quickly grow on food, and when given enough time within their desired temperature, they can indeed create havoc in people’s health.
The good thing is that foodborne illnesses are preventable.
One measure of food safety is knowing the safe food temperature and applying standards to put this knowledge into action. Most chefs know this by heart. After all, food safety is one of the core principles that every chef learn in culinary school. Ideally, every kitchen staff involved in food preparation should know this by heart – from receiving stocks to storing, preparing, cooking, transporting and serving.
For this post, let’s talk about Meat Thermometers and the Safe Internal Cooking Temperatures of meat items.
Safe Internal Cooking Temperature
What do you need the thermometer for?
A food item’s safe internal cooking temperature is when food can be safely served for consumption. This is critically important because food poisoning happens when bacteria thrive within the meat, even if it looks cooked outside.
Here’s a guide for each type of meat:
- Beef, pork, lamb, kangaroo (including livers) in various forms: minced, sausages, hamburgers, roasts, corned beef – 75°C in the centre
- Poultry such as chicken, ducks, spatchcocks, capons or turkey (including livers) either whole or minced – 75°C in the centre
- Leftover reheated foods – 75°C in the centre
- Eggs and egg dishes – 72 °C in the centre (or until the white is firm and the yolk thickens)
- Red meat such as beef, lamb and kangaroo in whole cuts such as steaks, chops, pieces and entire roasts – Well done 77°C, Medium 71°C, Medium rare 63 °C
- Pork in whole cuts such as steaks, chops, pieces and entire roasts – cook to 70°C and roasts to between 70°C and 75°C
- Fish fillets – Cook to around 69°C or when flesh flakes easily
Meat thermometers measure this temperature and provide the chef or kitchen staff with exactly how raw or done the meat is.
Types and Functions of Thermometers
There are many available types of meat thermometers, but here are the three most common types:
- Digital probe thermometers
A probe thermometer is an excellent tool for checking on the meat frequently. It has a long probe inserted in the meat and can be left in place for the entirety of the cooking process. Insert 2 ½ inches deep into the thickest part of the food BEFORE it is placed in the oven or cooked.
A heat-proof cord connects most probe thermometers to a digital monitor, which sits outside the oven for easy reference. Some models can be programmed to beep when the meat reaches a temperature of your choosing. There are also cordless probes that connect to an app on your phone.
Because you can check the temperature without the need to expose yourself to the oven heat or flame constantly, probe temperatures work well in ovens, smokers and grills. You can position and attach the monitor to visually access it without opening the oven door or bbq lid.
Be mindful, though, that because this thermometer is constantly exposed to high temperatures for long durations, it can short out and wear down quicker than other types of thermometers.
It is on the pricey side, owing to the many features and settings it can offer.
- Digital instant-read thermometers
Digital instant-read thermometers or Thermocouples, do a quick, nearly instant read of temperature on a piece of meat. They work by measuring degrees through a sensor at the tip of the reader’s stem, displaying the temperature on the monitor. To check the doneness of meat, insert the thermometer needle through the meat, and within seconds you’ll get a temperature read.
Instant-read thermometers are not meant to be left in the meat during the cooking process. Therefore, frequent checking of doneness will require the user to lift the grill lid or pull out the meat from the oven, releasing heat and prolonging the cooking time.
- Dial thermometers
If you want to go analog, then Dial thermometers or Bimetallic Strip Thermometers are for you.
The probe is made of metal, and the dial is usually enclosed in glass. There is a coiled strip of metal that moves as it expands with the heat. The metal serves as the pointer arm to the type of meat indicated inside the glass encasement.
Some dial thermometers are not made for constant heat exposure and should be used as instant read-only, while some models can be left on the meat throughout the cooking process.
This is the most cost-effective style of the thermometer types for the following reasons:
- You can’t be truly confident with the accuracy of the read, compared to the digital models which can display temperatures down to a specific degree.
- You can risk overcooking the meat while you wait for the reading to finish, which can be up to a minute to come to full temperature.
- The glass on the top of the dial is fragile.
Overall, dial thermometers can give straightforward, approximate temperature readings, which can still serve their purpose.
Calibrating The Meat Thermometer
A calibrated meat thermometer is a tool you can trust and leaves no room for guessing if the meat is still raw or overdone.
The meat thermometer should be calibrated before each shift, every week or if they suffered a shock such as when dropped or bumped.
A good and common way to calibrate it using the Freezing Point Method / Ice Point Method. The temperature of ice water reads as 32°F (0°C). If the thermometer reads otherwise, then it should be adjusted. If not possible, then it should be replaced.
Use of meat thermometer after cooking or reheating
Monitoring food safety temperature does not only revolve around the cooking process. After food is cooked, a food thermometer is still needed to ensure the temperature doesn’t fall into the temperature “danger zone” for perishable foods. This danger zone is between 5°C to 60°C. If perishable foods have been in this danger zone for more than two hours, dispose of them.
This is helpful for buffet and potluck-style gatherings where food may sit out for a more extended time.
Reheat foods within two hours or dispose of them.
If food is to be served immediately, then reheat it to any temperature. If it is held, you must reheat it to 74°C first.
Proper placement of thermometer in the meat
Placement is critical to get an accurate reading.
Here is a guide on Correct Food Thermometer Placement
- Beef, Pork or Lamb Roasts – Insert in the centre of the thickest part, away from bone, fat and gristle.
- Hamburgers, Steaks or Chops – Insert in the thickest part, away from bone, fat and gristle.
- Whole Poultry – Insert in the thickest part of the thigh, avoiding the bone.
- Whole Turkey – Insert the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest area, avoiding the bone.
- Poultry Parts – Insert in the thickest area, avoiding the bone.
- Ground Meat and Poultry – Insert in the thickest area of meatloaf or patty; with thin patties, insert sideways, reaching the very centre with the stem.
- Egg Dishes and Casseroles – Insert in the centre or thickest area of the dish.
- Fish – Insert the thickest part of fish when fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.
- Game Animals – Insert in the centre of the thickest part, away from bone, fat and gristle.
- Game Birds – Insert in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
- Product temperatures can vary throughout the food item, so taking two temperatures in different locations can result in a more accurate reading.
- Don’t let the thermometer’s probe touch the sides or bottom of the container.
- Don’t take the temperature right next to a meat bone.
- Make sure the tip of the thermometer does not poke through the food.
- If the thermometer is not left on the meat during the cooking process, take temperature readings toward the end, but before the food is expected to be “done.”
Proper thermometer maintenance
Avoid cross-contamination by cleaning and sanitizing thermometers. Clean and sanitize between using them for different foods, when switching tasks, after a break, or after four hours of constant use.
The stem or probe of meat thermometers should be cleaned, sanitized with an alcohol wipe or inserted in a sanitizing solution for at least 5 seconds, then air dry.
If particularly used in chicken, it should be cleaned immediately after each use.
Keep thermometers and their storage cases clean, stored safely, and easily accessible.
Meat thermometers come in various models and features, but that is only half the equation. The chef and kitchen staff involved in food preparation should consistently take meat temperature readings to ensure that the safe cooking internal temperature has been reached and harmful bacteria are eliminated.
That’s it for this week.
As always, Professional Chefs on Call at Anytime!
Ciao for now,