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Consumer Information From USDA
June 1997

Use A Meat Thermometer

Why Use a Meat Thermometer?

Use a meat thermometer to take the guesswork out of cooking and to assure that a safe temperature has been reached to destroy harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7.

A meat thermometer can help you:

  • Prevent foodborne illness;
  • Cook foods to a safe temperature;
  • Prevent overcooking; and
  • Hold hot, cooked foods safely.

Where to Insert

To be an accurate indicator, a meat thermometer must be inserted properly. The sensing area of thermometers is ½ inch to 2 inches long, and this area must be completely immersed in the deepest area of the food.

  • Poultry - insert it in the inner thigh area near the breast of the bird, but not touching bone.
  • Red meat, roasts, steaks or chops - insert in the center of the thickest part, away from bone, fat, and gristle.
  • Ground meat and poultry - place in the thickest area of meat loaf; insert sideways in thin items such as patties.
  • Casseroles and egg dishes - insert in the center or thickest area.
  • Hot, cooked foods must be held at 140° F or higher; cold foods, at 40°F or below.

REMEMBER: After each use, wash the stem of the meat thermometer thoroughly in hot, soapy water.

Minimum Internal Temperatures...

...that foods must reach to be considered safe and done, no matter how you prepare them:

Fresh ground beef, veal, lamb and pork: 160° F

Beef, veal, lamb (roasts, steaks, chops)

  • Medium rare: 145° F
  • Medium: 160° F
  • Well done: 170° F

Fresh Pork (roasts, steaks, chops)

  • Medium 160° F
  • Well done 170° F

Ham, cook before eating: 160° F

Ham, reheat fully cooked: 140° F


  • Ground chicken, turkey: 165° F
  • Whole chicken, turkey: 180° F
  • Breasts, roasts: 170° F

Stuffing, alone or in bird: 165° F

Egg dishes, casseroles: 160° F

Leftovers, to reheat: 165° F

Use a meat thermometer every time you cook raw foods, re-heat left-overs, and hold hot, cooked foods.

Which Type to Buy

Make sure the thermometer you buy is designed for meat and poultry -- not for candy or appliances. There are several types of meat thermometers available in stores.

When you insert a thermometer will be determined by the type: oven-proof or instant-read.

  • Regular, oven-proof types go into the food at the beginning of the cooking time and can be read easily. Most have a dial and thick stem which senses the temperature of food at least 2 inches thick.
  • Instant-read types cannot go into the oven, but give you a quick reading when inserted into the food after removal from the oven. These may have a dial or digital readout. Most digitals can read accurately when inserted into the food only ½-inch.
  • Microwave-safe types are designed ONLY for use in microwave ovens.
  • Thermocouple thermometers are considered the fastest and most precise, thus they are the thermo-meter of choice for laboratories, food service, and food inspectors. A thermocouple uses thin wires in the tips of the probe.

Are They Accurate?

Most meat thermometers are accurate to within plus or minus 1 to 2° F. Always check cooked meat and poultry in several places with a meat thermometer to ensure food safety.

Call Toll-free for More Information:

USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
1 (800) 535-4555
Washington DC (202) 720-3333
TTY: 1 (800) 256-7072

Food Safety and Inspection Service
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700

USDA Food Safety Publications

Turkey Roasting Holiday Dinner Safety Index
Thanksgiving Recipes Index
Christmas Recipes Index

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