How to use a meat thermometer

No one wants their dining guests or family to get sick from food they have prepared, but many people run the risk each day by not using a meat thermometer to check their food for proper doneness, relying on the color of the meat or the appearance of clear juices instead.

Meat that has not reached the proper cooking temperature runs the risk of transmitting bacteria that can cause foodborne illness to your family and friends. Meat thermometers are the only way you can ensure meat is properly cooked.

Some thermometers are oven safe, which means they are inserted into the meat before cooking and can withstand high oven temperatures. They produce readings throughout the cooking process. Instant-read thermometers either produce a dial reading or a digital reading within 15 seconds of being inserted into the meat. Use these thermometers to check meat temperatures after removing the food from the oven or the grill. Do not leave instant-read thermometers in the oven because they cannot withstand oven temperatures.

All these thermometers will give you accurate readings. The most important thing is to purchase one if you do not already have one. Fairly inexpensive models are available at most grocery stores.

Here are some additional tips for using a meat thermometer.

• Know the proper cooking temperatures for different kinds of meat. Ground meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Fish, shellfish and pork should reach 145 degrees F. Poultry, casseroles and any leftovers should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

• Calibrate your thermometer before using and check its calibration often to ensure accurate readings. To calibrate, place the thermometer into an ice slurry (glass of crushed ice and water) being careful not to touch the sides or bottom of the glass. Wait at least 30 seconds before adjusting. The thermometer should read 32 degrees F. If the thermometer is not calibrated correctly, you may either need to change the battery if it is a digital one or manually calibrate the dial to 32 degrees F while still immersed in the ice slurry by turning the nut under the dial using a small wrench.

• Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat without touching fat or bone. To get accurate readings on thinner cuts of meat, like hamburger and chicken strips, insert the thermometer into the meat sideways.

• Always clean the thermometer stem and tip between uses to prevent cross contamination.

Using a meat thermometer can give you peace of mind that you have properly prepared your meal, especially when cooking for others. More food safety information is available at the Bell County Extension office.

Rebecca Miller is the Bell County extension agent for family and consumer sciences. Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin. Source: Annhall Norris, extension associate.