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Why Does USDA Recommend Using a Food Thermometer?

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. 

Food thermometer and chicken breasts in skillet

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

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.

Posted in: Kitchen SafetyTagged: Thermometer