For meat eaters, having a meal temperature guide on hand is a must. If you want to ensure that your meat is getting cooked properly, and reduce your risk of food-borne illnesses, you need to know how to properly prepare each type of meat you eat.

Why Meat Temperature Is Important

raw meat

You can eat raw meat one hundred times and not have any problem, but you're running a risk of having a major bought of food poisoning (or worse) every single time you do it. Some people will go their entire life without getting any of the food-borne illnesses you're about to read about, or, you could get it the first time you eat undercooked meat (and regret it for the rest of your life).

Each type of meat requires a different cooking temperature to call it “safe.” First, take a look at the illnesses that you can contract by eating undercooked meat.

1. E. Coli

You can get E. Coli from any contaminated food, and it is one of the common reasons for recalls of fresh foods. However, one of the most common causes of this food-borne illness is beef that hasn't been cooked properly per a meat temperature guide.

E. Coli generally lives on the surface of your meat, so washing it can sometimes help whisk it away – but not always. Another thing that might kill it is searing the outside of meat when you want your burger or steak less than well-done. This, however, could increase your risk of in taking cancer causing carcinogens.

Meat that has been tenderized could have E. Coli bacteria deeper into the meat. Cooking your meat to the right temperature kills the bacteria and keeps you from getting sick. If you do get E. Coli, some symptoms you may experience include vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea – which set in anywhere from two to eight days after consumption and last up to a week.

2. Listeria

Listeria is another food-borne illness that is most often found in one place but can also be caused by under cooking meats – including seafood and poultry. Mainly, it's a bacteria that is found in meats that are ready-to-eat – like deli meats.

Listeria is especially dangerous to pregnant women (and more easily contracted by them) and can cause miscarriage. Signs of listeria poisoning include nausea and diarrhea. It may feel like you have the flu since it includes body aches and fevers as some of its most common symptoms.

3. Salmonella

Raw and under cooked red meat products and poultry will increase your risk of salmonella infection. Not only do you need to cook these meats properly, but you also want to make sure you're cleaning up your counter or cutting board in between prepping your different meal items, as salmonella from chicken can spread into your vegetables.

If you come into contact with salmonella, you'll likely notice cramping, diarrhea, and a fever anywhere from 12 hours to 3 days after consuming the food that was contaminated with this food-borne illness. Symptoms can last for a week, and if severe enough they can lead to death.

4. Toxoplasmosis and Trichinosis

Aside from the illnesses already listed, eating meat or poultry that's under cooked or raw can also cause toxoplasmosis and trichinosis infections. There is a parasite that can be found in venison, pork, and lamb which causes toxoplasmosis. You might not have any symptoms unless you already suffer from a compromised immune system. Trichinosis is a parasite found in pork.

A Deeper Look at the
Signs and Symptoms of Food Poisoning

You got some ideas of the individual effects of food-borne illnesses. Most of them have the same basic symptoms. They can start from an hour or two from consumption to a couple of weeks after, and they can last from a day or two to a week.

When you get food poisoning, you'll usually experience the following –

  • Feelings of nausea, which could include
  • Vomiting that may lead to dry heaves
  • Stomach cramps are one of the first signs and
    can be mild or extreme
  • Stomach pain, different than cramping, can
    also be mild or moderate
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever

If you have a serious case of food poisoning, your symptoms can be far worse. Serious cases are especially detrimental to young children, pregnant mothers, people with immune-mediated illnesses, and the elderly. Severe symptoms include –

  • Dizziness that leads to double vision
  • Problems breathing or swallowing
  • Paralysis
  • Death

If your symptoms are severe, seem to last more than a week, or you're in one of the categories of people at a higher risk, contact your doctor or head to the emergency room. Your life could depend on it.

How to Use a Meat Temperature Guide

meat temperature guide

Your first step in properly utilizing a meat temperature guide is to invest in a meat thermometer. Every single kitchen should have one of the devices, and you should be using it every time you cook meat. A meat thermometer shouldn't only be used sometimes. It's a simple tool that could save your life (or at least keep you from having a few very unpleasant days).

Your meat or cooking thermometer will help you in so many ways in the kitchen, even helping you determine when that loaf of freshly baked bread is ready. Many foods, aside from meats, can lead to food poisoning when not properly cooked (including anything that calls for eggs in the recipe). Cooking your food to the right temperature will ensure you don't get sick from a food-borne illness.

Even leftovers need to be cooked to a specific temperature (even more so if you're reheating a raw or under cooked meat item). You cannot properly judge if a steak or burger is fully cooked just by looking at it – you have to know the internal temperature for the correct information.

When you invest in your meat thermometer, it should come with instructions on how to use it, but here are some tips on how to properly check the temperature of your food item (just in case you've lost the instructions and haven't used your cooking thermometer in a while).

1. Using Your Meat or Cooking Thermometer

Thicker meats and meat with a bone in it need different measuring treatments than others when it comes to checking how done it is with a meat thermometer.

Thicker cuts, like roasts, whether it's beef or lamb, should have the thermometer placed inside to a midway point but angled away from the bone.  You always want to stay away from the bone in bone-in cuts, and you always want to check the temperature in the thickest part of the cut, toward the middle.

Another thing to consider is that meat will continue to cook to an internal temperature of about 5 to 10 degree higher than when you shut the stove top off. The hot exterior of the meat is residually making its way to the cooler center. This means that if a steak is a couple degrees below the desired internal temperature if you wait a few minutes, it will be just right.

2. Your Basic Meat Temperature Guide

Not all meat temperatures are created equal. When it comes to following your meat temperature guide, you need to consider the type of meat as well as how well you actually want it done. There are ways to more safely consume rare meat, though you are still risking contracting a food-borne illness.

Here are the temperatures you want for safe consumption and less risk –

  • Rare beef needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 115° Fahrenheit or 40° Celsius.
  • Medium-rare beef needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of  130° Fahrenheit
    or 55° Celsius.
  • Medium cooked beef needs to reach an internal temperature of 140° Fahrenheit or 60° Celsius.
  • Medium-well beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 150° Fahrenheit or 65° Celsius.
  • Well-done beef needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 155 °Fahrenheit or 70° Celsius.
  • When cooking ground beef, you need it to reach a temperature of 160° Fahrenheit or 70° Celsius.
  • Medium-rare lamb should be cooked to 130° Fahrenheit or 55° Celsius.
  • Medium cooked lamb needs to reach a temperature of 140° Fahrenheit or 60° Celsius.
  • Medium-well lamb should reach an internal temperature of 150° Fahrenheit or 65° Celsius.
  • Well-done lamb needs to be at 155° Fahrenheit or 70° Celsius.
  • Ground lamb should be cooked to 160° Fahrenheit or 70° Celsius.
  • White meat poultry should be cooked to 160° Fahrenheit or 70° Celsius.
  • Dark meat, on the other hand, needs to be cooked to 165° Fahrenheit or 75° Celsius.
  • Ground poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165° Fahrenheit or 75° Celsius.
  • Pork should never be eaten in any rare state.
  • Medium done pork needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 145° Fahrenheit or 65° Celsius.
  • Well-done pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160° Fahrenheit or 70° Celsius.
  • Ground pork needs to be cooked to 160° Fahrenheit or 70° Celsius.

Final Thoughts on Your Meat Temperature Guide

If you have a specific cut of meat you're unsure about, follow these cooking suggestions or do a little research on your own. It's better to overcook something a little than to undercook it and get sick (or get the people you're cooking for sick).

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