Meat Thermometers: A Food Safety Tool

Food safety — avoiding food-borne illnesses — is an important concern for everyone who prepares or serves food, whether at a party, in a restaurant or other public place, or at home. Meat thermometers are a useful tool for making sure the food you serve is safe. 

While kitchen hygiene and hand washing are important ways to stave off food poisoning, the temperature of your foods is one of the essentials. Cold foods must be kept cold and hot foods must be kept hot. Temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees are called the “danger zone” for food.This is the temperature range at which food spoils most easily.

You can control the temperature of your food by making sure to refrigerate foods or to keep them hot till they are served, but it’s also necessary to cook them to a safe degree of doneness. 

It’s done — so it’s safe

Meat, in particular, must be cooked throughly to kill pathogens. In general, that requires an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The specific temperatures to kill different disease-causing agents variy. Norovirus, for example, will die at 145º. Salmonella can be killed by temperatures above 165 degrees. Clostridium botulinum (the bacteria that causes botulism) requires temperatures of 250º to ensure safety. That’s why canning is done at higher temperatures for a longer time than grilling a burger. 

How can you know the internal temperature of your meat? A meat thermometer will do the trick. 

All about meat thermometers

There are many different kinds of meat thermometers. In each case, push the probe into the thickest part of the meat and wait for the temperature to settle before you read the temperature. 

Analog meat thermometers

The traditional meat thermometer shows the temperature of the meat on a dial. You need to be able to read the dial, but otherwise they don’t require any special treatment.

Digital meat thermometers

A digital meat thermometer may come in different shapes, but all will give a readout in numerals. They will usually be more accurate than an analog thermometer.

The one pictured above is a common type. It folds up, wakes up automatically when it is unfolded, and often has a magnet that lets you keep it on your stove or fridge so it’s always handy. This type of thermometer often allows you to program it for the type of meat you are cooking, so it will show you whether your chicken is at a safe temperature for chicken, and the same for beef, pork, and perhaps also other meats such as lamb. You can usually choose celsius or Fahrenheit readings, and these thermometers will often make a sound or change the color of the numbers so that you can easily see that your meat is ready. 

There are also thermometers that you place in the meat before you cook it. These will connect with an app for your phone, so that you can always check and see whether your meat is ready to remove from the heat. This is convenient when you’re not near the kitchen. You can have fun at a party and still know that the grill needs your attention. Some apps have alarms, too. 

Other uses

Meat thermometers can also be used to make sure that bread or other kinds of food are ready, or to check that the temperature of food at a picnic or party is not creeping into the danger zone. Every kitchen should have this handy tool for meat, though.