Food Temperature Guide | 5 mins read

Food Temperature Guide for Cooking Meat

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Hanh Truong

By Hanh Truong

Introduction to Food Temperature

Ensuring that meats are fully cooked goes beyond guessing or checking that the protein's juices run clear. Especially since thickness and preparation methods will vary, it is not necessarily safe to depend on just cooking times either. To make sure meats are properly cooked to the right temperature, kitchens need to be equipped with a thermometer. With a thermometer, individuals can follow proper food temperature guides and guarantee that their meats are safe to eat.

The Importance of Meat Temperature Safety

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Restaurant kitchens need to cook their meats at the correct temperature for the safety of their customers. According to the Center for Disease and Control (CDC), about 48 million Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses each year. Many of these cases can be attributed to pathogens that grow on meat products that are then consumed by individuals. These foodborne bacteria can be eliminated, however, with the right amount of heat.

For example, trichinella, a parasite that is known for contaminating pork, can be terminated at 135F. Salmonella, a type of bacteria that often reproduces on chicken, will be eliminated when cooked at 140F. E. Coli, which is another common foodborne pathogen, is killed off when heated to 155F. Therefore, restaurants can protect their customers' health by monitoring their meat temperatures and cooking practices.

It is also important to follow safe cooking temperatures to prevent overcooking proteins. Overcooked ingredients contain carcinogenic substances. These are chemicals that can increase an individual's risk of cancer. Additionally, leaving meat on its heat source for too long will reduce its nutritional value. It will also make the food harder to digest and metabolize.

The Correct Temperature Guide to Cook Meat

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When cooking meat, it is important to have a dependable thermometer nearby. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that people check meats' internal temperatures toward the end of cooking. It is also important to clean and sanitize the food thermometer with hot soapy water after each use. This will help prevent cross-contamination of meat juices and potential bacteria.

Generally, for maximum food safety, restaurants should follow the food temperature guide that is outlined by the USDA. This includes the following guidelines.

  • Poultry - Poultry products, such as chicken, turkey, quail, and duck, should be cooked at 165F.
  • Ground Meats - Meats, like beef, lamb, and pork, that are cut into small pieces using a meat grinder or similar machinery, should be cooked to 160F.
  • Meats - All other types of meats need to be cooked to 145F. It is also recommended that these proteins have a 3-minute resting period on its heat source before it is served.
Cooking temperatures will vary depending on wellness and cut preference. The following are ideal temperatures at which restaurants and individuals should cook meats.


White Meat - 160F
Dark Meat - 165 F
Ground Poultry - 165F


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Rare - 115F
Medium-Rare - 130F
Medium - 140F
Medium-Well - 150F
Well-Done - 155F
Ground Beef - 160F


Medium - 145F
Well-Done - 160F
Ground Pork - 160F


Medium Rare - 130F
Medium - 140F
Medium-Well - 150F
Well-Done - 155F
Ground Lamb - 160F

Seafood and Shellfish

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Fish - 145F or until the fish is opaque and can be easily separated with a fork.
Shrimp, Crab, Lobster, and Scallops - Must be cooked until the meat is white and opaque.
Clams, Mussels, and Oysters - Must be cooked until their shells open.

How to Measure Meat Temperatures

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There are a variety of ways to check a meat product's temperature. Restaurants can use a dial thermometer, which is known for its instant-read and oven-safe features. Or they can use a digital thermometer and take advantage of its easy-to-read interface and ensured accuracy.

Other variations of kitchen thermometers include pop-up thermometers and thermometer forks. The former is single-use and is often pre-placed on meats in stores. Many restaurants, however, prefer thermometer forks because it makes monitoring large meats easier.

In order for these tools to be effective, they must be used correctly. The following are best practices on how to insert thermometers to check various types of meats.

Red Meats

To test red meats, such as lamb, pork, and beef the thermometer must be inserted into the thickest section. However, it is important to avoid bones, fats, and gristle. The thermometer should go at least half an inch to 2 inches into the center.


Poultry refers to chicken, turkey, duck, quail, and other types of feathered animals. To ensure that the protein is at the correct internal temperature, the thermometer must be inserted into the thickest part or muscle. Similar to red meat, it is important to avoid any bones or fats because it can affect the reading accuracy. It is recommended that individuals perform multiple readings to ensure the poultry meat is thoroughly cooked.

Thin Meats

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For thin meats, like beef patties and chicken cutlets, the thermometer needs to be inserted into the side. It is best to have the thermometer at least 2 inches into the side of the meat to have an accurate reading.

Combined Dishes

This refers to dishes that have meats and other ingredients, like casseroles and pasta. Individuals can measure the temperature of these products by putting the thermometer into the center of the dish. If the ingredients include eggs or poultry, then individuals should check multiple areas. This will ensure the dish is cooked consistently and evenly.

Conclusion to Food Temperature

  • Restaurants need to adhere to a meat temperature guide to ensure that their proteins are thoroughly cooked. This ensures any foodborne pathogens are eliminated from the meat, which will help prevent illnesses, like food poisoning.
  • This is important because restaurant owners have a responsibility in serving safe and good quality dishes to customers.
  • The correct cooking temperature will vary, depending on the type of meat and its cut.
  • To effectively monitor food temperatures, restaurant staff must be aware of the ideal way to use a thermometer.