Because you can't tell if food has reached a safe internal temperature just by looking at it.
Is it done yet? How do you know when your hamburger is done? Because it's brown in the middle? Looking at the color of the food is not enough—you have to use a food thermometer to be sure.
According to USDA research, 1 out of every 4 hamburgers turns brown in the middle before it has reached a safe internal temperature. The only way to be sure food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature.
Because it helps you to avoid overcooking.
Using a food thermometer not only keeps you safe from harmful food bacteria but it also helps you to avoid overcooking, keeping it juicy and flavorful.
Because it reduces the risk of foodborne illness.
Just like washing your hands before you prepare a meal, you should get into the habit of checking the internal temperature of food, especially meat, poultry and egg dishes. Using a food thermometer is the only sure way of knowing if your food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy foodborne bacteria.
Tips for using a food thermometer
- Use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature toward the end of the cooking time, but before the food is expected to be done.
- Insert the food thermometer into the thickest part of the food, making sure it doesn't touch bone, fat or gristle.
- Compare your thermometer reading to the Recommended Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures chart to determine if your food has reached a safe temperature.
- Make sure to clean your food thermometer with hot, soapy water before and after each use.
Thermometers come in all shapes and sizes—digital probes for the oven and microwave, dial oven-safe and even disposable temperature indicators. For more information about the different types of thermometers and how to use them, check our fact sheet on Kitchen Thermometers.
Where is your food thermometer? Pushed to the back of the utensil drawer until Thanksgiving? I encourage you to use it whenever you’re cooking meat, poultry, and even egg dishes. It's the only reliable way to make sure you are preparing a safe and delicious meal for your family.
Remember, “It’s Safe to Bite When the Temperature’s Right!
If you have questions about using a food thermometer, feel free to submit them here. But, if you need an answer quickly, one of the following is your best bet:
- Phone: Call USDA's toll-free Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).
- Online: Use our automated system, Ask Karen, to search our knowledgebase, submit a question, or participate in live chat.
- Email: Send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions and Answers
Q. How do you use a food thermometer with a shallow-tray frozen dinner, like a TV dinner?
A. If you are preparing a frozen dinner in a shallow tray, be sure to follow the cooking instructions on the product label. If you are using a microwave oven, observe the "standing time" indicated in the instructions, since cooking continues and is completed during standing time.
There are different types of food thermometers. Some thermometers are designed to better measure the temperature in thicker food products (such as a dial thermometer) and others are designed to better measure the temperature in shallow food products (such as a digital thermometer). Before using a food thermometer, read the thermometer manufacturer's instructions. The instructions can tell you how far the thermometer must be inserted in a food item to give an accurate reading. Most digital thermometers will read the temperature in a small area of the tip so they may work with thin foods or foods in a shallow tray.
Question: What’s 40 feet long, bright yellow, and helps to keep you healthy?
Answer: No, it’s not an overgrown banana. It’s the USDA Food Safety Discovery Zone, also known as our Food Safety Mobile. The Discovery Zone will be traveling to state fairs, public events, supermarkets, and schools around the country this summer and fall. Our goal is to provide visitors of all ages with interactive and fun experiences that teach them how to Fight BAC, the bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses.
We launched the Discovery Zone last week on the National Mall, and the first thing we noticed is how children and their families were attracted to the vehicle and curious about the life-size characters outside, such as Thermy™ and BAC®. When they entered Discovery Zone, they found a brightly colored, fun-house kitchen with several learning stations, including “The Danger Zone,” “Through the Microscope,” and “The Microwave.”
By now, most children seem to have learned the importance of washing hands to prevent illness. Even so, the kids on the Discovery Zone loved the “Germs That Glow in the Dark” station, where they learned about the importance of hand washing. They also got a kick out of “Through the Microscope,” where they could get an up-close view of bacteria like E. coli that cause foodborne illness.
We found out that it’s not just the kids who enjoyed learning about food safety. At the “Food Thermometer” station, a number of avid backyard barbecuers assured us that they “could tell by looking” when a hamburger is done. They were surprised to see for themselves that the color of the meat doesn’t always indicate that it’s safe to eat. They learned that you need a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat, poultry, and seafood – on the grill (and everywhere else, for that matter), to make sure they’re safe to eat.
While the primary mission of the Discovery Zone is education, we can also deploy it in the event of a natural disaster to support local food safety education efforts. When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck in 2005, an earlier version of the Food Safety Mobile demonstrated how to sanitize kitchen items and provided critical food safety supplies.
In June, the Food Safety Discovery Zone will be on the road, traveling to Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Kansas, and Michigan. You can follow our activities on our Discovery Zone Web site and on Twitter. You can also take a virtual tour on YouTube or submit a request for the Discovery Zone to visit your school, market, or other events.
As the Director of the FDA’s Food Labeling and Standards Staff, it’s my job to ensure that consumers have accurate, complete, and informative labels on the food that they buy. One of the areas that is a top concern for us from a food safety perspective is food allergies.
If you or a member of your family suffer from food allergies, you must protect yourself at all times. While some allergies are just irritating, approximately 30,000 Americans go to the emergency room each year to get treated for severe food allergies.
What is a food allergy? It is a specific type of adverse food reaction involving the immune system. The body produces an allergic antibody to a food. Once a specific food is eaten and binds with the antibody, an allergic response occurs.
A food allergy is not the same as a food intolerance or other non-allergic food reactions. A food intolerance is an abnormal response to a food or additive, but it does not involve the immune system. Compared to food intolerances, food allergies pose a much greater health risk.
In fact, it is estimated that 150 to 200 Americans die each year because of allergic reactions to food.
What are the symptoms of a food allergy? The most common symptoms are:
- Hives, itching, or skin rash
- Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, or other parts of the body
- Wheezing, nasal congestion, or trouble breathing
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
In a severe allergic reaction to food, you may have more extreme versions of the above reactions. Or you may experience life-threatening symptoms such as:
- Swelling of the throat and air passages that makes it difficult to breathe
- Shock, with a severe drop in blood pressure
- Rapid, irregular pulse
- Loss of consciousness
To reduce the risks, FDA is working to ensure that major allergenic ingredients in food are accurately labeled. Since 2006, food labels must state clearly whether the food contains a major food allergen. The following are considered to be major food allergens:
- Tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans
- Shellfish such as crab, lobster, and shrimp
These foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies in the United States
So, remember to take all measures to protect yourself and your family members who suffer from food allergies. In addition to avoiding food items that cause a reaction, we recommend that you:
- Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace stating that you have a food allergy
- Carry an auto-injector device containing epinephrine (adrenaline)
- Seek medical help immediately if you experience a food allergic reaction