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- What are bacteria?
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- Are Ceramic and Enamel Cookware Safe and Practical?
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- Exactly what is meant by the phrase perishable food?
- Defining Some Current Language about Food
- What Does the Word “Foodie” Mean? It Depends Who(m) You Ask
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- What does the term shelf life mean?
- What's in Our Food? Maybe Processing Aids, Maybe not
- “Fresh,” “Natural,” “Processed”—What Do These Words Mean?
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- Exactly what defines a farmers’ market?
- Farmers' Markets: Why They're So Popular; How to Find One Near Your Home
- How should I handle produce at home?
- What foods are sold with restrictions at a farmers’ market?
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- FAQs on Food-borne Illness and Mishandling of Food
- About how many cases of food-borne illness occur in the U.S. each year?
- Answer Key to “How Much Do You Know about Safe Handling of Food?”
- How Much Do You Know about Safe Handling of Food?
- I Left It Out Too Long! Can I Still Eat It?
- Should Your Grocery Card Track Food-Borne Illnesses?
- Sudden, Awful Intestinal Distress--Is it the Flu or a Foodborne Illness--or Both?
- What YOU Can Do to Avoid Food-borne Illness
- What does the phrase food-borne illness refer to?
- FAQs on Food Product Dating
- Are stores required, by law, to remove outdated items from their shelves?
- Do most consumers actually pay attention to the dating on foods?
- Does the “use by” date matter once the product is frozen?
- Is information on food longevity and safety available by phone?
- What are expiration dates?
- What do the terms closed dating and open dating mean?
- What if there is no date on a product, and I don’t remember if I bought it a month ago or ten years ago?
- What should consumers know about food product dating?
- When Did You Buy It? When Did You Open It?
- When to Throw Food Out? Not on the Use-By Date
- Who establishes these product dates?
- Who requires and regulates dating on foods?
- Why do “best by” and “use by” dates sometimes seem conservative?
- FAQs on Food Safety
- "Is It Safe To….?" FAQs Answered by our Advisory Board
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- FAQs about Mushrooms: Are they Very Dirty or Very Clean?
- FAQs about Soft Cheeses--What's Safe, What Isn't
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- FAQs on Raw Fruits and Veggies—the Answers Can Protect Your Wallet and Your Health
- Food Bars/Buffets in Supermarkets--Is the food safe? How can you tell?
- Food/Meat Thermometers—What You Need to Know
- How Long Should Cheese Be Aged? Will the Rules Be Changed?
- How Long Will They REALLY Last? Part I: Non-perishables
- How Long Will They REALLY last? Part II: Perishables
- Imported Foods—What’s Safe, What’s Risky?
- Is It Safe? Is It Nutritious? More Survey Answers from Scientists
- Is It Time to Switch to Pasteurized Eggs?
- Is the Food Safety Modernization Act Making Our Food Supply Safer?
- More FAQs about Minimum Safe Cooking Temperatures: Pork and Other Perishables
- Sushi: Why Such a Short Shelf Life?
- Winter Food Storage—Can I leave It in the Car or in the Garage?
- Would You—Should You—Do You--Eat Irradiated Food?
- FAQs on Food Wrapping
- Are any plastic wraps or containers really “microwave safe”?
- Are some plastic wraps more effective than others?
- Can I refrigerate meat and poultry in its store wrapping?
- Can I use plastic freezer bags to store produce in the fridge?
- Can chemicals leach unto food from plastic wrap or containers?
- Do coated plastic bags really help produce last longer?
- Does aluminum foil give foods a metallic taste?
- Does exposure to aluminum cause Alzheimer’s disease?
- Everything You Need to Know about Wrapping Food Right
- How should fruits be wrapped before refrigeration?
- Is it safe to use aluminum foil in a microwave oven?
- Should I wrap raw vegetables loosely or tightly before refrigerating?
- What are some advantages and disadvantages of aluminum foil?
- What produce needs to be wrapped before refrigerating?
- What’s better for wrapping food—plastic or aluminum foil?
- Why does foil sometimes darken, discolor, and leave black specks on food?
- Will a foil cover help keep foods on the table hot or cold?
- FAQs on Freezing Food
- FAQs on Leftovers
- FAQs on Mold
- What is mold?
- Does mold ever grow on nonperishable food?
- Can I remove a moldy part from food and eat the rest?
- About how many different kinds of molds are there?
- How can I avoid getting mold on my refrigerated food?
- Is mold always visible?
- Are any molds harmless?
- What food groups are most susceptible to mold?
- What kinds of illnesses can result from eating moldy food?
- What kind of packaging protects foods from mold?
- What other safety tips will help prevent mold from growing?
- Why are some molds dangerous?
- FAQs on Organic Food
- What Is Organic Food?
- Are Organic Methods More Humane to Animals?
- Does Conventional Food Have a Longer Shelf Life Than Organic?
- Does Organic Food Taste Better than Conventional Food?
- Is Organic Food More Nutritious Than Conventional Food?
- Is Organically Grown Food Better for the Environment?
- What Do the Various Organic Labels Mean?
- What Important Contributions Has the Organic Movement Made?
- Which Are Safer: Organic or Conventional Food Products?
- Will Organic Baby Food Make Baby Healthier?
- FAQs on Oxidation: How It Affects Foods
- FAQs about Plastic Products Used with Food
- Pyrex® Glassware: Is it safe to use?
- Are plastic bags safe to use in the microwave?
- Are some plastic wraps safer and/or more effective than others?
- Are there any health risks from reusing plastic water bottles by refilling them with tap water?
- Are we eating chemicals from plastics along with our food?
- Can I microwave food in my plastic containers?
- Does the plastic used in water bottles pose a health risk?
- If I heat food in an open can, will that cause the plastic lining to leach chemicals into the food?
- Is it safe to heat frozen entrées in their plastic containers and with their plastic wrap?
- Is it safe to use plastic wrap as a covering when microwaving food?
- Is it safe to wash and dry plastic plates, cups, containers, and utensils in the dishwasher?
- Is there good evidence that BPA is harmful to human health?
- Of the plastic products used to store, heat, or eat with (wraps, bags, containers, silverware, plates, etc.), which contain BPA?
- What is BPA?
- Why is so much of today’s food packaged in plastic?
- FAQs on Preservatives
- What are Preservatives?
- All things considered, is our food supply safer or less safe because of preservatives?
- Are the preservatives in hot dogs and similar products health risks?
- What preservatives are known to cause allergic reactions?
- What are some common preservatives used in food?
- What food groups commonly have preservatives in them?
- Why are preservatives added to food?
- Will the label on the product tell me if it contains a preservative?
- FAQs on Washing Produce: Why and How
- Other FAQs
- Can chicken soup really cure a cold?
- Is Chocolate Good For You?
- Can Science and Technology Help You Save Food Dollars?
- FAQs Answered By Our Board Scientists: on Chickens, Bananas, Old Salad Dressing, and More
- FAQs about Food Price Increases
- FAQs about Products We Use with Food
- FAQs about Shelf Life: Tortillas, Pancakes, Wine, and More
- Food Fraud: Are you paying for scallops and getting shark meat?
- Is Cheese Addictive? Only If You Eat It
- Missing Chickens: Where Have All the Small Ones Gone?
- Nine FAQs about Food Labels
- Quiz Yourself! Check Your Knowledge about Food Temperatures
- Scientists Answer Two FAQs about Egg Safety
- Should Sour Cream and Cottage Cheese Be Stored Upside Down?
- Some Shelf Life Info, General and Specific (Spirits, Defrosted Veggies, Green Tea, and More)
- Syrup from a Tree or from a Lab--Which Should You Pour on Your Pancakes?
- Ten FAQs about the Prickly Pineapple
- What's New in Food? IFT Expo Offers Tasty Innovations
- What's on the Menu in Cuba?
- What’s in My Water? Answers to FAQs
- FAQs on Bacteria
- Books: Food for Thought
- Food Safety
- It Says "Use By Tomorrow," But You Don't Have To
- Ten Tips for Consumer Food Safety
- Food Allergies: Recognizing and Controlling Them
- “Is It Spoiled?” When in Doubt, Check It Out
- How To Keep Your Cooler Cool
- Recent Recalls: Salmonella Threatens 100s of Products
- STOP! Don’t Rinse That Raw Chicken!
- Sous Vide—A Better Way to Cook?
- Why You Need a Safe Cooking Temperature Chart and How to Get One Right Now
- “Myth-information” about Food Safety: You’d Better Not Believe It
- After The Storm: What You Can Save and What You Must Throw Out
- How to Protect Your Food During a Power Outage
- Meet Your Beef--Via Bar Code Info
- Organic Food, GMOs, the Safety of American Food, the Value of Use-By Dates, and More--Scientists Tell Us What They Think
- Raw chicken, Leftovers, Deli Meats, and More-- What Surveyed Scientists Said
- Tips About 4 Popular Beverages: Wine, Coffee, Water, and Soda
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- Introducing our Advisory Board Scientists
- Produce: Handling Tips
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- Cucumbers: for Cool--and "Cool"--Summer Treats
- Going Away for All or Part of the Winter? Prepare Your Kitchen for your Absence
- How To Grill Safely During the Summer
- How do summer squash and winter squash differ?
- New Year’s Resolutions For a Safer Kitchen
- Preserve the Taste of Summer by Canning—But Do It Safely
- Summer Food Fests Offer Much More than Calories
- Summer Party Tips: Baby Carrots (Using for Dips) Hot Dogs (Ditching the Guilt), and Watermelon (Finding a Ripe One)
- Tailgating: How to Do It Right
- Tips on Keeping Your Summer Fruits Flavorful and Healthy
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- Cooking Frozen Foods
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- Refreezing Frozen Foods
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- Chocolate Is Even More Healthful Than You Thought
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Food/Meat Thermometers—What You Need to Know
"It's safe to bite when the temperature is right"—that's the advice given by a USDA fact sheet on appliances and thermometers. But how do you know when food is cooked to a sufficiently high temperature to kill the pathogens that cause food-borne illnesses? An accurate food thermometer can tell you. "No modern kitchen should be without one," says our Advisory Board food process engineer, Dr. Timothy Bowser. "Why do people take chances on risky methods of determining doneness of food when a thermometer will do the job better? It's like ignoring a perfectly good GPS or compass and relying on the wind, hearsay, memory, or a paper map written in a foreign language to find your way on an important mission over dangerous terrain."
That strong statement should convince you to go out and buy a food thermometer if you don't already have one. They're easy to locate. You can order one online, or find one for less than $10 at almost any hardware or big box store. You can also spend hundreds on this product, but, according to Bowser, it isn't worth the cost.
I asked Dr. Bowser to tell us more about different ways that cooks test for doneness, different types of food thermometers, which features he prefers, and how to use the thermometer properly. Here are the Q/As:
What are some traditional but untrustworthy methods of determining doneness?
"When I stab it with a fork, the juices run clear, so it's done." What's wrong with this method? It may be done near the surface but not deep inside the poultry or roast. The fork method doesn't really account for cold spots deep in the food product. Cold spots can be caused by problems with thawing or densities of different materials like fat vs. muscle vs. stuffing vs. pockets of injected marinade.
"The little temperature indicator that came in the poultry/roast popped up, so the food is done." Not necessarily. Those short probes don't get deep enough into the product to give you accurate information about doneness.
"I've cooked it as long as the recipe said to, so it must be done." Not necessarily. Your stove temperature, pan size, and amount of product may all be different from what the author of the recipe used.
"The hamburger is brown in the middle, so it's done." According to the USDA fact sheet "Why Use a Food Thermometer?" 1 out of every 4 hamburgers turns brown in the middle BEFORE it has reached a safe internal temperature. Though you may have used this method for years, color is NOT a reliable indicator of doneness.
"My dinner guest, who's a very experienced cook, says it's done." Your guest may be telling you what he/she thinks you want to hear. Or, he/she may be very hungry! At any rate, don't trust the so-called wisdom of others. Trust only the thermometer.
What are the differences between the two main types of food thermometers— analog (dial) and digital?
When you stick the prong into your poultry, roast, or casserole the digital thermometer displays the temperature (in numerals); the analog has a dial with numerals and a pointer that moves around the dial until it reaches the temperature your food is at.
The digital thermometer will probably give you the temperature faster. The accuracy of a digital thermometer may be a little more or less than an analog thermometer, depending on the model and quality. Since I've needed bifocals, I've noticed that the digital ones are easier to read. For taking the temperature of thinner foods, the stem of the thermometer can be inserted parallel to the longest dimension of the food (for example, through the edge and into the middle of a hamburger patty).
The following explanation (from the website eHow) of how an analog thermometer works is a good one: "A meat thermometer takes advantage of the fact that different metals expand and contract at different temperatures. The rod of the meat thermometer contains two different metals that are bonded together. One expands at a lower temperature while the other must reach a higher temperature. The heat causes the strip of metal to bend or twist, depending on the temperature of the meat. The twisting metal triggers the dial and produces the readout on the display face of the meat thermometer."
A digital thermometer operates on batteries, which are used to power a sensor located in or near the tip of the probe. The sensor is normally a specialized integrated circuit chip, but can also be a thermocouple or a resistive temperature device. All of the sensors that are used in digital probes are designed to provide an electrical signal that is proportional to the temperature of its environment. The circuitry in the "brains" of the digital probe interprets the signal and sends the appropriate output to the digital display.
A digital thermometer should last quite a few years if handled carefully. I have owned digital thermometers that still worked well after 5 years.
Which brand and style of thermometer do you recommend?
Many of the inexpensive models do a great job. For example, Taylor thermometers are known to be reliable and accurate. Some of my favorites are made by Taylor (www.taylorusa.com).
The folding probe style is convenient. It's like a pocket knife because it keeps the probe safely tucked away in a pocket or slot. Some probes can be a bit sharp and therefore dangerous. The tubular holders that generally come with these thermometers (and often have pocket clips on them) are hard to keep clean.
I especially like thermometers with thinner, sharper probes because they make a smaller hole, generally have a faster response time, and get a true temperature reading more quickly compared to other sensors. An example of a good one is Taylor's 518 Connoisseur. In my opinion, the Taylor model 518 and similar probes are one answer to the cleaning problem, while still making storage and use convenient. To see this model online, click here: http://www.taylorusa.com/kitchen/thermometers/connoisseur-digital-cooking-thermometer-with-folding-probe.html
I can also recommend Taylor’s folding probe model 9306 It’s waterproof, includes an infrared non-contact thermometer, has a white light to illuminate the target, and a many other technical features that make it very attractive to the "food geek.” I think I should purchase one of these to try out myself!
It seems as though Taylor has recognized the sleeve cleaning issue and addressed it in another fashion with their model 9848E and some similar models (which I just found on their website). The 9848E has an antimicrobial sheath, a thin probe and it can be calibrated! The bright color is very visible and the readout is large. I haven't actually used one of these, but I do like the looks of it. To see this one, click here: http://www.taylorusa.com/kitchen/thermometers/5-commercial-anti-microbial-instant-read.html
Some thermometers have a timer and an alarm function. This timer might be useful for cooking as well as other kitchen chores. A chef may want to cook (or chill) a food to a certain temperature and then hold it at this temperature for a given time period. For this function, the timer could be valuable.
How can I tell if my food thermometer is giving an accurate reading?
If it's a battery type, test the batteries to be sure they're working. For either type, use the thermometer to measure the temperature of boiling water or an ice bath. Here's how to do it:
The boiling point method: Immerse at least 2 inches of the probe in boiling water. If placed in boiling water, the thermometer should read 212°F (100°C). (At higher altitudes, the boiling point may be different. Check with your local health department if you're unsure about your area.) Allow a little time for the thermometer reading to adjust to its new environment. Then, if the temperature on your analog thermometer is not 212°F, rotate the thermometer head (with a wrench or pliers) until it reads 212°. Some models come with a calibrating wrench right on the case. Follow the calibration instructions for your digital thermometer (if it is one of the models that can be calibrated).
The ice method: Set a cup of crushed ice aside, allow some of the ice to melt, and fill the voids. Insert the probe into this mixture. The temperature should stabilize at 32°F (0°C). (Water added to crushed ice does not stabilize as quickly and will not be as accurate as the "melting" method). If it doesn't read 32°F, an analog thermometer can be adjusted as described in the boiling point section above.
Remember, some digital thermometers cannot be recalibrated. If one of this type becomes inaccurate, you have to buy another.
What tips can you give on how to use the thermometer?
Clean the probe before use and then insert it into the CENTER of the food product. Probe in several places to identify the coolest location (when testing for doneness based on a high temperature requirement). Temperatures may be cooler near areas of foods that were not thawed fully, are self-insulated (due to thickness of product, bones, skin, coating, etc.), are not exposed to the heat source and/or moving air, or are composed of different materials (e.g. stuffing in a bird).
That said, a thermometer isn't the best implement for testing the doneness of every food! I still recommend a pick or a toothpick to test the doneness of some baked goods. Visual inspection works very well on many items, such as cookies and biscuits.
How do I know what temperature to cook each type of food to?
For the Shelf Life Advice chart "Safe Temperatures for Cooking Food," click here:
For a USDA list "Temperature Rules," click here:
Note: The USDA has just recently reduced the safe minimum temperature for cooking pork from 160°F to 145°F.
How many different kinds of food thermometers are there?
A lot. Here's a brief summary from the USDA that will answer this question more specifically:
Thermometers are turning up everywhere in today's kitchens in all shapes and sizes — digitals, instant-reads, probes for the oven and microwave, disposable indicators and sensor sticks, pop-ups, and even barbecue forks. They're high-tech and easy to use.
Some thermometers are meant to stay in the food while it's cooking; others are not. Some are ideal for checking thin foods, like the digital. Others, like the large-dial thermometer many people use, are really meant for large roasts and whole chickens and turkeys.
Choose and use the one that is right for you!
- Dial Instant-Read
- Digital Instant-Read
- Disposable Temperature Indicators
- Dial Oven-Safe
Timothy J. Bowser, Ph.D. , Oklahoma State University, Dept. of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering
Usda.gov Fact Sheets Appliances and Thermometers "Use a Food Thermometer"
EHow.com Food "How Does a Meat Thermometer Work?"