Thermometers: Tools for Safe Food Storage and Preparation

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When it comes to food preparation, visual cues often become the standard for determining when a food is actually cooked to perfection. Clear juices flowing from a hearty burger mean it is time to take it off the grill. When a Thanksgiving turkey becomes golden brown, it is ready to be removed from the oven. Such visuals, although commonly used, are inaccurate standards of cooking. Storing, cooking, and serving food at proper temperatures is critical to avoiding harmful bacteria that may cause illness.

Foodborne Illness

Bacterial growth is most often related to temperatures at which food is stored and cooked. Bacteria multiply fastest in environments with temperatures between 40ºF and 140ºF, a window known as the “danger zone.” Ensuring that proper temperatures stay outside this danger zone eliminates potential bacterial growth.

Refrigeration

Accurate refrigeration is a key component in avoiding bacterial growth at an early stage. Cold environments prevent germs from proliferating. Below are guidelines for refrigerating units:

  • Refrigerators must be kept below 40ºF
  • Freezers must be kept at or below 0ºF

Cooking and Re-heating

In the same way, it is important that foods be prepared and cooked at precise temperatures. The right amount of heat destroys bacteria and other harmful pathogens. Below is a tabled guide for heating and re-heating common foods:

Food PreparedTermperature
 Turkey and Chicken 160º F
 Ground Meat 165º F
 Egg Dishes 160º F
 Seafood
 145° F

 

 Leftovers & Casseroles 165º F
Holding Temperature for
Prepared Foods
 140º

Thermometers

Whether storing food in a cooled environment or cooking it fully, it is best to monitor food temperatures with a reliable thermometer. A wide variety of thermometers are available, although some are more complex and contemporary than others. A guide to the similarities and differences in thermometers is below:

Dial (Bi-metallic)

  • Includes two types of metal which expand and contract in response to temperature
  • Features and instant-read dial face
  • Safe for extended use in the oven

Digital (Thermistors)

  • Made with a ceramic semiconductor to penetrate the food
  • Digital display appears within ten seconds
  • Best suited for checking temperatures at different stages of cooking

Liquid

  • Involves a glass tube with an alcohol solution indicating temperature on a graduated scale
  • Most traditional type of thermometer
  • Safe for extended use in the oven

Thermocouple

  • Constructed of handheld digital display connected to a probe that enters food
  • Digital temperature display appears in five seconds or less
  • Best suited for checking temperatures at different areas to ensure even cooking

Oven Cord

  • Similar to thermocouple thermometer, with a handheld digital indicator and also a cord connecting to probe
  • Probe can be left in food while handheld display remains safely outside the oven
  • Safe for extended use in the oven

When storing and cooking any kind of food, it is essential to take precautions against harmful bacteria. Choosing a reliable thermometer is a crucial part of this process.

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