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What Is a Food Thermometer?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 31 March 2014
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A food thermometer is a device used to test the temperature of meats, poultry, dishes that contain eggs, casseroles, and soups. It is used to judge whether or not a type of food has reached a temperature high enough to kill bacteria it may be harboring. If food is not cooked to high enough temperatures, it may not be safe for consumption. Consuming it, in such a case, may cause food poisoning.

Often, people decide to stop cooking a food item because they judge it to be done. They may believe food is done because of how it looks, basing their opinions on whether or not it looks brown or crispy on the outside. They may also judge it based on its texture and whether it appears to be juicy or dry. Some may decide meat has cooked long enough because its juices run clear. Unfortunately, these factors aren’t generally effective enough to determine whether food is safe for consumption.

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Since a food that appears done can still make a person very ill, many food safety organizations publish information about the temperature food must reach to ensure bacteria are destroyed. For example, the recommended temperature for cooked poultry is 165 degrees Fahrenheit (73.88 degrees Celsius) while a beef roast that hasn’t been cut, sliced, or otherwise altered should reach 145 degrees Fahrenheit (62.77 degrees Celsius) before it is consumed. Ordinary household thermometers aren’t good for testing food temperatures. Instead, a consumer may purchase a special food thermometer designed for this purpose and capable of withstanding the high temperatures that are common in cooking.

There are many types of food thermometers a person may purchase. One type of food thermometer looks like a barbecue fork and is designed to be inserted into the food’s thickest section. A fork–style thermometer is meant to provide a quick temperature read, so it can be removed right away. It’s not designed to allow the user to leave it in the food item during the cooking process.

There are also digital or dial-type food thermometers that are meant to be read almost instantly. Many of them can give a temperature reading within 10 seconds of insertion into the food in question. To get a reliable reading, it’s important to place this type of food thermometer into the thickest part of the food. An instant-read thermometer is also not intended to stay in food while it’s cooking.

A consumer may also purchase an oven-safe food thermometer that can be left in the food as it cooks. These thermometers may require a little longer to provide a read than instant-read models. Usually, oven-safe models provide a temperature read within a minute or two. Like other thermometers, they have to be inserted into the thickest part of the food.

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