Food Thermometer Use and Care

Marshalee Valentine

Thursday, November 07, 2019

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Last week we looked at different types of thermometers used to ensure that safe food temperatures are maintained in food preparation and storage, and determined thermometers are not one-size-fits-all pieces of equipment. Now, how do we use them? Most pathogens are destroyed between 60C and 74C/140F and 165F. However, some consumers may go above to achieve a desired taste. Higher temperatures may be necessary to achieve consumer acceptability and palatability, also known as “doneness”.

Most available food thermometers will give an accurate reading within -16C to -14C/2F to 4F; however, this reading may not be an accurate internal temperature if the thermometer is inserted in an incorrect location in your food. Here are some tips to get you started.

1 Check your manufacturer's instructions before use. Once you are using a designated food thermometer, this will usually tell you how far and where you must insert the thermometer for accuracy. If you have no instructions available, check the stem or probe of your thermometer for an indentation (this is where the sensing device is usually located). As a rule of thumb dial thermometers must penetrate about 2 to 3 inches into the food, while most digital thermometers will read the temperature in a small area at the tip.

2 For meat such as beef and ham, you should place the thermometer at least midway in the roast, avoiding the bone. For hamburgers, steaks, or pork chops, it is recommended that a thermistor or thermocouple thermometer be used. This probe must be inserted in the thickest part, away from bone, fat, or gristle. If the food is of an irregular shape, such as beef roast, check the temperature in numerous places. However, if using an “instant-read”/dial bimetallic-coil food thermometer, the probe must be inserted in the side of the food so the entire sensing area (usually 2-3 inches) is positioned through the centre of the food.

Quick tip: To avoid burn injury when checking temperatures, remove the food from the heat source and insert the food thermometer sideways after placing the item on a clean plate or surface.

3 Different parts of poultry may require higher cooking temperatures for quality and flavour; however, the safe minimum internal temperature recommendation for a whole chicken is 73C/165 F as measured with a food thermometer. Internal temperatures for poultry must be checked at the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast — avoiding the bone. If you decide to stuff your poultry, the centre of the stuffing must also reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 73C/165 F.

Quick tip: For combination dishes such as casseroles place thermometer into the thickest portion of the food or the centre of the dish.

Thermometer Care

Please be reminded that a thermometer is a cooking utensil and must be kept clean. Wash/wipe probes with hot, soapy water; avoiding immersion in water along with ensuring plastic-face thermometers are not exposed to too much heat.

Always store thermometers in designated packaging to avoid injury to yourself or deterioration/damage to the item.

Thermometers need to be periodically calibrated for accuracy check the manual of your thermometer to see if a calibration method is listed.

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