Cook to the right temperature
Why it matters
Did you know that the bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest in the “Danger Zone” between 40˚ and 140˚ Fahrenheit?
And while many people think they can tell when food is “done” simply by checking its color and texture, there’s no way to be sure it’s safe without following a few important but simple steps
Follow these top tips to keep your family safe
Use a food thermometer.
Cooked food is safe only after it’s been heated to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Color and texture alone won’t tell you whether your food is done. Instead, use a food thermometer to be sure.
- If you don’t already have one, consider buying a food thermometer. Learn more about the different types of food thermometers available.
- When you think your food is done, place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food, making sure not to touch bone, fat, or gristle. (Get tips on correct thermometer placement.)
- Wait the amount of time recommended for your type of thermometer.
- Compare your thermometer reading to our Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart to be sure it’s reached a safe temperature.
- Some foods need 3 minutes of rest time after cooking to make sure that harmful germs are killed. Check our Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart for details.
- Clean your food thermometer with hot, soapy water after each use.
Keep food hot after cooking (at 140 ˚F or above).
The possibility of bacterial growth actually increases as food cools after cooking because the drop in temperature allows bacteria to thrive. But you can keep your food above the safe temperature of 140˚F by using a heat source like a chafing dish, warming tray, or slow cooker.
Slow Cookers and Food Safety (USDA)
Slow cookers are a safe and efficient way to cook foods – if you follow these safety rules.
Microwave food thoroughly (to 165 ˚F).
To make sure harmful bacteria have been killed in your foods, it’s important to microwave them to 165˚ or higher. Here’s how:
- When you microwave, stir your food in the middle of heating.
- If the food label says, “Let stand for x minutes after cooking,” don’t skimp on the standing time. Letting your microwaved food sit for a few minutes actually helps your food cook more completely by allowing colder areas of food time to absorb heat from hotter areas of food. That extra minute or two could mean the difference between a delicious meal and food poisoning.
- After waiting a few minutes, check the food with a food thermometer to make sure it is 165˚F or above.
Barbeques and Smokers
Cooking doesn’t necessarily have to take place on the stovetop or in a conventional oven. While the basics of food safety apply to any type of cooking, special guidelines apply to appliances such as grills and smokers.
Barbeque Basics: Tips to Prevent Foodborne Illness (FDA)
Basic tips for grilling food, from preparation to cooking to storage.
Barbeque and Food Safety (USDA)
Technique for grilling, smoking, and even pit cooking meats safely.
Smoking Meat and Poultry (USDA)
Using a covered grill or a smoker to cook food safely requires two thermometers: one for the food and one for the smoker.
Watch "Cook" Video
Learn "cook" tips for preventing food poisoning
It’s safe to bite when the temperature is right! Get educational materials for kids, educators, and families.
Is It Done Yet? (USDA)
Download brochures, temperature charts, and more on cooking food to safe temperatures.
Doneness Versus Safety (USDA)
Take the guesswork out of cooking meat, poultry, casseroles, and other dishes.