When food is between 40˚ and 140˚ Fahrenheit, it is considered to be in the "Danger Zone" because the bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest in this range.
Many people think they can determine whether food is "done" by checking its color and texture, but using those methods alone puts the people who consume the food at a greater risk of a foodborne illness. To be sure food is safe, follow these important, but simple steps.
Use a food thermometer.
Cooked food is safe only after it's reached a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria. Color and texture alone cannot guarantee that food is ready to safely eaten. Instead, use a food thermometer to be sure.
- If you don't have a food thermometer, consider buying one. Food thermometers come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and are one of the best investments you can make to ensure your family stays free of the bacteria associated with foodborne illness. The USDA has plenty of valuable information about food thermometers. Learn more about the different types here.
- When you think your food is done, place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food, making sure not to touch bone, fat, or gristle. (Get tips on correct thermometer placement.)
- Wait the amount of time recommended for your type of thermometer.
- Compare your thermometer reading to the Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart to be sure it's reached a safe temperature.
- Some foods need 3 minutes of rest time after cooking to make sure that harmful germs are killed. Check the Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart for details.
- Clean your food thermometer with hot, soapy water after each use.
Keep food hot after cooking (at 140 ˚F or above).
Just because your good is done doesn't mean that you're out of the clear when it comes to foodborne illness. The possibility of bacterial growth actually increases as food cools after cooking because the bacteria thrive as the temperature drops. To keep your food above the safe temperature of 140˚F, use a heat source like a chafing dish, warming tray or slow cooker.
Microwave food thoroughly (to 165 ˚F).
To make sure harmful bacteria have been killed when warming food in the microwave, it is it's important food is heat to 165˚ or higher. Here's how:
- Stir your food halfway through heating.
- If the food label says, "Let stand for x minutes after cooking," don't skimp on the standing time. Letting your microwaved food sit for a few minutes actually helps your food cook more completely by allowing colder areas of food time to absorb heat from hotter areas of food. That extra minute or two could mean the difference between a delicious meal and food poisoning.
- After waiting a few minutes, check the food with a food thermometer to make sure it is 165˚F or above.