Food Safety 101: Internal Meat Temperatures

Holiday celebrations and family gatherings just aren’t complete without plenty of mouth-watering food. Whether its turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving or a ham for Christmas, what’s on the dinner table is one of the focal points for most holiday get-togethers.

What no one wants at their holiday celebration are uninvited guests that can cause food-borne illnesses. To keep bacteria and other pathogens from spoiling your party, the USDA recommends four steps to keep foods safe:

• Clean: Wash hands and preparation surfaces often.
• Separate: Separate raw meat from other foods.
• Cook: Cook foods to the right temperature.
• Chill: Refrigerate food promptly.

Cooking dishes to the proper internal temperature is a vital food safety practice. Meat dishes need to reach specified temperatures to ensure that any pathogens present in the meat are killed, reducing the risk of food-borne illness. This is especially important for ground meat products where bacteria can be mixed throughout.

Quick guide for safe meat temperatures.

Beef, Pork, Veal & Lamb
Steaks, chops, roasts: 145 °F and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Ground meats: 160 °F
Ham, fresh or smoked (uncooked): 145 °F and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
All Poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, and wings, ground poultry, and stuffing): 165 °F
Eggs: 160 °F
Fish & Shellfish: 145 °F
Leftovers: 165 °F
Casseroles: 165 °F

The best way to be sure meat is cooked to a safe internal temperature is to invest in a good meat thermometer. Some thermometers are meant to be left in meat products while they’re being cooked. Push the thermometer at least 2 inches into the thickest part of the meat, but be careful to avoid fat and bone. When the thermometer reading hits the proper temperature (see below), your dish is ready to enjoy.

Other instant-read thermometers can be poked occasionally into the meat products while they’re cooking to give you the current temperature reading. You’ll know quickly if your meat has reached a safe temperature and is ready to serve.

The USDA has developed safe minimum internal temperature standards for a range of common meat cuts to provide a guideline for cooks. Follow these recommendations and your dining experience should be both tasty and safe.

Once food is prepared and your guests have finished eating, refrigerate leftovers quickly. That is, if there are any leftovers!

Check out our holiday recipes and more information about food safety below: