Food thermometers – A New Year’s Resolution that Stuck

I recently saw a re-run of the 1998 movie “You’ve Got Mail.” In that movie, the character Frank, a newspaper columnist, is ‘in love with his typewriter.’ Someone referred to him as a ‘nut.’

It reminded me of a recent passion of my own – I’m in love with my meat thermometer. I like to think of myself as ‘quirky’ and not so much ‘nutty.’ As a 2011 New Year’s Resolution, I pledged to use my thermometer more in my home cooking. Yes, I know it’s strange, but it’s a resolution that I’ve been able to keep and it’s July!

I teach food safety on a regular basis. As part of teaching to consumers and volunteers we recommend that they use thermometers to make certain that ‘hot foods are hot, and cold foods are cold.’ In teaching food service personnel, we teach them how to ‘temp’ foods to know that foods are cooked and held at required/regulated temperatures. Both teaching strategies are designed to keep food safe and out of the temperature danger zone, a temperature range where bacteria, if present, grow rapidly. The temperature range is between refrigerator temperature and cooking temperature, or 40˚F – 140˚F.

Back to my resolution….so I’m using my thermometer in cooking meat. No longer am I putting a beef roast in the oven and saying…”Hmm, 350˚ for 1 ½ hours”. Instead I’m checking the temperature of the roast to see when it reaches 135˚ – 140˚F for my favorite medium to medium-rare degree of doneness. Then it gets covered with foil and allowed to rest for 10-15 minutes. The final temperature goes up during the resting period. My target is 145˚F final temperature. The result is a moist and juicy roast and not the dreaded dry and overcooked condition, which is can only be saved by drowning in barbecue sauce. I’ve also been using my thermometer on pork roasts and chops, as well as whole chicken and pieces. The results have been wonderful.

And did you realize that USDA just revised their cooking recommendation for pork? The revised temperature is 145˚ F for whole cuts of pork – that means roasts and chops. The color of the pork at this temperature might still be slightly pink, but as long as the temperature has been checked, you can be assured that it has reached the temperature to destroy any pathogens. Now there are only three temperatures that you need to remember – 145˚F for whole meats, 160˚F for ground meats and 165˚F for all poultry.

So, resolve to fall in love with your meat thermometer. Your family will appreciate the juicy, flavorful meats that you put on their plates.

For a brochure – Is It Done Yet? – on using a thermometer, go to http://www.fsis.usda.gov/is_it_done_yet/brochure_text/index.asp#SMIT

For more information on the USDA revised pork recommendations, go to http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/NR_052411_01/index.asp

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