Use a food thermometer to make sure food is safe.
Most people think they can check the doneness of burgers, pork chops and chicken breasts just by “eyeballing it.” They look at it and judge the doneness by its appearance. They trust their experience. Experience is good, but it might be misleading.
According to a recent USDA study, one out of every four hamburgers turns brown in the middle before it has reached a safe internal temperature.
Eating undercooked meats or poultry increases the risk of food-borne illness. Many pathogens live naturally in the intestinal tracts of food animals.
Surveys of meat sold in retail food stores indicate that between one-fourth and three-fourths of all meat and poultry cuts sold in 1999 might have been contaminated with food-borne pathogens.
Bacteria most commonly associated with undercooked meats are campylobacter, salmonella and E. coli O157:H7.
Campylobacter is one of the most common bacterial causes of diarrheal illness in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration considers salmonella to be the leading cause of bacterial diarrhea in the Pacific Northwest. Although much rarer, E. coli O157:H7 is of special concern because the estimated infectious dose is small — only two to 2,000 cells, and side effects can be serious. Hemolytic uremic syndrome, the most common cause of acute kidney failure in children in the United States, can be caused by E. coli O157:H7 infection.
Undercooked ground beef has been the most commonly identified food source of E. coli O157:H7 infections. During slaughter, beef can become contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 present in the intestines of healthy cattle. When ground, pathogens on the surface of the meat are incorporated into the interior.
Cooking is an essential part of making foods safe to eat because food-borne pathogens are killed when heated to the USDA recommended internal temperature.
The best way to be certain that food has been cooked to the proper temperature is to check it with a thermometer. An instant-read digital or dial thermometer is recommended for checking the temperature of small cuts of meat such as burgers, pork chops and chicken breasts. Found at grocery shops, kitchen shops and discount stores, instant-read thermometers range in price from as low as $5 for a basic model to as high as $50 for extra features.
To use, insert probe into the side of the meat and allow 15 to 20 seconds for the temperature to stabilize. An instant-read digital thermometer has its temperature sensor in the tip and must be inserted at least one-half inch into the thickest part of the meat; the probe of the instant-read dial thermometer must be inserted 2 to 3 inches.
The USDA recommends the following internal end-point temperatures:
Steaks & Roasts 145 degrees F
Fish 145 degrees F
Pork 160 degrees F
Ground Beef 160 degrees F
Chicken Breasts 170 degrees F
Temperatures should be checked at the end of cooking time because instant-read thermometers are not designed to be left in during cooking. Clean the probe between uses by rinsing under hot water for five seconds and wiping with a clean paper towel.
More information about food thermometers can be found at: www.foodsafety.wsu.edu, www.IsItDoneYet.gov and www.fsis.usda.gov/education/thermy.