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February Cartoon: Proper Cooking Temperatures for Meat
Pot roast cartoon

What’s the best way to tell if your meat is done? Using a thermometer! Knowing how and when to use a thermometer can help keep you and your loved ones from becoming sick.

How hot should you cook meat?

Different meats need to be cooked to different temperatures to kill bacteria that may be on them. For example, raw whole beef steaks need to be cooked to at least 145°F (63°C) to remove E. coli bacteria, while chicken and poultry need to be cooked to at least 165°F (74°C) to remove Salmonella. Undercooking these foods can lead to foodborne illness.

Follow these guidelines to help you cook your food to the right temperatures (you can also print out a poster here):

  • 145°F (63°C)
    • Whole meats not mechanically tenderized (pork chops, steaks, etc.)
    • Whole seafood
    • Eggs that will be served immediately
  • 155°F (68°C)
    • Ground or mechanically tenderized meats (ground beef or pork)
    • Ground seafood
  • 165°F (74°C)
    • Poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.)
    • Stuffed pasta
    • Casseroles
    • Any reheated food

In addition to cooking meat to the right temperature, you should use proper cooking equipment. This includes ovens, crock pots, stove tops, and grills. Using equipment designed for hot holding, like a steam table, will not cook the meat enough and could make you sick.

Once you have used your thermometer, you should clean and sanitize it between uses. This includes before taking the temperature of another food. This step is crucial to food safety. Bacteria and other pathogens can easily be transferred to the thermometer, especially if the meat is still raw. Using it without cleaning and sanitizing could contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness.

Where do you measure the temperature?

As with many other foods, the best place to put the thermometer when measuring the temperature is in the thickest part of the food. This is because the thickest part takes the longest to cook, so if that part is done then you know the rest of the meat should be cooked.

For most foods, you should insert the thermometer in the center of the meat or dish you are making. In chickens and turkeys, the thickest part is in the thigh. If you are cooking a casserole or something irregularly-shaped, you should take the temperature in several places.

As you are taking the temperature, be careful not to touch the sides of the pan and stay away from fat and bones. These parts will be hotter than the internal temperature and can give a false reading.

How else can you keep meat safe to eat?

Because meat is considered a time/temperature control for safety (TCS) food, it requires some extra attention to ensure bacteria and other pathogens stay within safe levels.

Purchasing

When purchasing meat, pay attention to its temperature. Meat and other TCS food should be purchased and stored at 41°F (5°C) or colder. If it was supposed to be frozen it should be frozen when bought. If you find that your meat is not cold or if it is partially thawed, do not buy it or throw it away.

Storing

When you get home from the grocery store, put your meat in the refrigerator or freezer right away. Make sure to put meats with higher cooking temperatures on lower shelves to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

Preparing

When thawing meat, you should use an approved method to help minimize the time food spends in the Temperature Danger Zone. This includes thawing food in the refrigerator, under cold running water, and in the microwave. If you choose to thaw food in the microwave, you should transfer it to your cooking equipment immediately after it is done thawing. You can also thaw food during the cooking process, which works best for foods that are ground, like ground beef. Always use one of these methods when thawing food!

During the cooking process, make sure to keep raw meat products away from ready-to-eat foods like salad. If possible, use separate cutting boards and utensils. This will help you avoid accidentally spreading germs from the meat to the rest of your meal!

For more information, resources, and other food safety tips, visit StateFoodSafety.com.

— Janilyn Hutchings

Download/print cartoon: Pot Roast

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