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Healthy Eating by Shelby Shelby

Check the Temperature!

            Meat is a mealtime staple, but raw meat can harbor bacteria that may cause sickness. Each year 48 million Americans become ill, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die in the United States due to foodborne illness (illness due to poorly stored or undercooked food) according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Foodborne illness is especially dangerous for older adults, young children, pregnant women, and people who have compromised immune systems. One way you can prevent foodborne illness and be sure you are eating safe foods is to cook your meats to the correct temperature.

            A common meat-cooking myth is “I can tell when a food is done by looking.” You might look for the meat or juices to turn a particular color or for the meat to have the right “feel,” but evaluating a meat’s safety by looking may lead you to undercook it. Cooking meat to an adequate internal temperature is the only way to rid meat of the bacteria that causes illness. Each meat harbors different bacteria types so the safe cooking temperature for different meats will vary. Also, meats that have been more processed, like ground meats, likely have more bacteria and require higher internal temperature to ensure their safety. The good news is that safe meat is still tasty meat—you can still enjoy flavorful options while cooking to a safe temperature.

Follow the tips below to be sure you are cooking your meat to a safe temperature:


Invest in a meat thermometer and use it properly. Meat thermometers are inexpensive kitchen tools that can ensure a safe meal. Meat thermometers have a long temperature probe that should be inserted into the thickest part of the meat—this is the part that takes longest to reach a safe temperature.


If you think it looks done, check the temperature. If your thermometer shows that the meat has reached the ideal temperature (listed in the table below), then it is ready to serve. If it isn’t up to a safe temperature, then keep cooking and recheck in a few more minutes until the safe temperature is reached or exceeded.


Keep a Food Safety Meat Temperature Chart (like the one below) handy in your kitchen as a reference. This will help you keep track of what temperature you are aiming for.


Food Safety Meat Temperature Chart


Safe Temperature

Poultry (chicken and turkey)

165 degrees F

Beef, pork, ham (with a 3-minute rest time)

145 degrees F

Ground beef or pork, meat mixtures

160 degrees F

Egg dishes

160 degrees F

Microwaved foods or reheated leftovers

165 degrees F

Adapted from the US FDA




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