Food Safety and You: Choose the Thermometer That is Right For You

Wenqing Xu  |  8/24/2017 8:05:56 PM

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Why use a thermometer to keep food safe?

One of the critical factors to control harmful bacteria in food is controlling temperature.

We often refer to it simply as “keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.”

Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly in the temperature “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

The only way to know the accurate temperature is to use a thermometer.

There are different types of thermometers for different tasks.

Thermistor-style food thermometer

Also known as tip-sensitive thermometer.

Contains a semiconductor in the tip to measure temperature.

Takes roughly 10 seconds to show the accurate temperature on the digital display.

Can measure the temperature of thin foods and thick foods. Place at the thickest part.

Some models can be calibrated, some cannot. Check manufacturer’s instructions.

Can be used for meat, poultry and egg dishes or combination dishes, such as casseroles.

Not designed to remain in the food during cooking.

“Oven-safe” dial thermometer

Designed to remain in the food while it is cooking in the oven.

Normally used for large foods, such as turkeys.

Constantly shows the temperature of the food while it is cooking.

Some models can be calibrated, some cannot.

If not left in the food while cooking, they can take as long as 1 to 2 minutes to read the correct temperature.

Infrared thermometer

No direct contact with foods. Reduce risk of cross-contamination.

Fast results.

Only measures surface temperatures and not internal temperatures.

Often used to measure temperatures of cooking surfaces, for example, measuring the pan temperature before searing a steak.

Cannot be calibrated.

Not accurate when there is smoke, fog or steam, or when the background temperature is too high.

Oven thermometer

Can be left in the oven to verify that the oven is heating to the desired temperatures.

Test your oven temperature periodically.

Refrigerator or freezer thermometer

It is important to monitor the temperature of refrigerators and freezers.

Refrigerators should maintain a temperature of 40 F or below. Freezers should maintain a temperature of 0 F or below.

Critical in a power outage. When the power comes back on, if the refrigerator or freezer is 40 F or below, the safety of food may not be affected.

References

United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS). 2011. Kitchen Thermometers.

United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS). 2013. Thermometers & Food Safety.

United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS). 2013. Thermy: Types of Food Thermometers.

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