Cooking Meat

If I cook the meat until it looks done will it be safe to eat?

Meat and poultry may carry E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Toxoplasmosis, Trichinella spiralis, and Listeria. Fish and seafood may carry Vibrio cholerae and hepatitis A. Thorough cooking is required to kill these disease-causing agents. The only way to know if meat is thoroughly cooked is to take the temperature of the meat.

The correct end point temperature will destroy disease-causing bacteria depending on:

  • Cooking time
  • Number of bacteria present
  • Bulk of product
  • Type of bacteria

The bulk of the meat determines the amount of time required to achieve the temperature needed to kill disease-causing bacteria to a large extent. Different types of meat have different safe temperatures, because they may have different types of bacteria.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends cooking ground beef, pork and lamb patties or mixtures such as meat loaf to 160°F. Whole pork cuts such as chops and roasts should be cooked to 145°F (medium), or 170°F (well done). Whole beef and lamb cuts such as steaks and roasts may be cooked to 145°F (medium rare), 160°F (medium), or 170°F (See“Meat Temperature Chart”).

whole turkeyAccording to USDA, “A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temperatures.”

Fish should be cooked until it reaches 145°F at its thickest point. It should be opaque and flaky when tested with a fork. Raw shrimp should turn pink. Lobster should turn bright red.

The length of time required to achieve these temperatures will depend on:

  • The amount of meat and the size of the pieces being cooked.
  • Whether the meat is cooked from the fresh, thawed or frozen state.
  • The cooking method (frying, roasting, boiling).
  • Type of equipment used for cooking (oven, crock pot, stew pot, grill).
  • Additional ingredients cooked with the meat (potatoes, stuffing, etc.).

Other points to keep in mind to cook meat safely include:

  • Turn meat over at least once during grilling.
  • Reheat pre-cooked meat to 165°F.
  • If you cook meat from frozen state, add 10-20 minutes cooking time per pound.
  • Never brown or partially cook meat and then refrigerate.
  • Precooked ham should reach 140°F.

Cooking meat in the microwave

It is difficult to cook food evenly in the microwave. These tips will help you produce a safe, high quality product.

  • Use only microwave safe cookware.
  • All meat should be thawed before cooking in the microwave (even it is thawed in the microwave) to produce a high quality product.
  • For safety reasons, do not cook poultry from the frozen state.
  • Arrange meat uniformly in the cookware.
  • Boneless meat cooks most evenly so debone large pieces of meat.
  • Add liquid.
  • Cover the meat.
  • Oven wattages may vary. Be sure to check internal temperatures of meat.
  • Cook meat to proper temperature as indicated by a food thermometer (See“Meat Temperature Chart”).
  • Let stand covered for two minutes to reach temperature equilibrium.
  • Do not cook stuffed poultry in the microwave.

Recognizing properly cooked meat

Unfortunately, color is not a reliable indicator of properly cooked meat. In fact, meat may appear brown before it is fully cooked, especially for whole cuts of meat. On the other hand, some meat may look pink even when it is fully cooked. Many things can affect the color of meat in addition to whether it is cooked thoroughly or not. For instance, the amount of fat may affect the meat’s color and so can vegetables cooked with meat.

Pathogens may be outside or inside the meat, so internal temperature is important and the only way to know for certain that it has been cooked safely.

Meat thermometers

The only way to recognize properly cooked meat is with a meat thermometer. A meat thermometer can help you:

  • Prevent foodborne illness.
  • Prevent overcooking.
  • Allow meat to be held at a safe temperature.

There are several types of meat thermometers:

  • Oven-proof
  • Instant read or digital
  • Pop-up
  • Microwave-safe

If you’re going to use a meat thermometer, you want to be sure your thermometer is accurate. You can test it for accuracy easily by inserting the thermometer two inches into boiling water. At sea level, it should read 212°F. It will be 2°F lower than 212°F for every 1,000 feet above sea level. For example, water boils at 200°F in Denver, Colorado. Some thermometers can be calibrated or adjusted under the dial.

Next, you want to be sure that you’re placing the thermometer in the meat correctly. For poultry, insert the thermometer at the inner thigh near the breast. For ground meat, insert the thermometer at the thickest area. For whole meat, insert the thermometer in the thickest area but away from bone.

Finally, you want to insert the thermometer at the correct time. Oven-proof thermometers can be inserted at the beginning of the cooking time. Instant-read or digital thermometers should be inserted when you remove the meat from the oven. Remember to wash your thermometer after each check of temperature.

Meat can be cooked in some types of flexible materials, but not others.

Oven cooking bags are acceptable for baking, but grocery bags should not be used for cooking. Hock locks can be left on turkey and poultry during cooking, but be sure to remove any internal organs from the poultry cavity.

Plastic bone guards in ham should be removed before cooking. However, netting around ham or turkey can be cooked and pop-up temperature indicators can be left in while cooking. Remember to remove these items before serving.

Be sure to remove any absorbent paper and plastic pads that are often underneath the meat in its store package.

Meat should never be cooked or reheated in a plastic container unless the container is labelled microwave safe.