With every bite of food that a person takes, he or she runs the risk of illness. Certain types of food carry bacteria that can be harmful if consumed. To destroy these bacteria, it is necessary to cook raw foods so that they reach certain internal cooking temperatures. Primarily it is food that comes from the flesh of animals that is the most likely to be contaminated and cause a food-borne illness. This includes beef, pork, seafood, and poultry.
While food safety begins at the butcher and even prior to that, people must take steps to reduce the risk of contamination by practicing safe food handling. This begins with keeping food properly stored at temperatures below 41 degrees Fahrenheit. This prevents the further growth of bacteria. It is also important to keep food items separated as meats, poultry and fish can easily contaminate non-meat items. Most importantly, a person must prepare his or her food so that it reaches the right temperature. To do that, they will need a thermometer and they will need to know what the correct internal temperature of cooked chicken, seafood, pork, and beef should be.
Beef is available in the form of steaks, roasts, or ground. Regardless of the form, the right beef cooking temperature must be reached to ensure that it is safe for consumption. When cooking ground beef it should reach no less than 160 degrees to effectively kill off dangerous germs. For people cooking steaks or roasts, they should reach a minimum temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. A beef cooking temperature of 145 degrees is considered medium rare. Roasts and steaks that reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit are considered medium. Even after reaching the correct temperature, this type of meat often needs to rest for approximately three minutes. This is not a concern as the temperature will continue to rise during the rest period, preventing bacteria growth.
Beef Safety: Do it Right (PDF)
Poultry often receives a great deal of attention when it comes to cooking. The correct chicken cooking temperature is critical to destroying pathogens such as Salmonella, which is extremely heat-resistant and can cause severe illness. To safely destroy dangerous bacteria the internal temperature of cooked chicken should reach no less than 165 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the minimum temperature for safe cooking, however, for maximum safety a higher chicken cooking temperature may be preferable, particularly for breast meat and whole chickens. For whole chickens 180 degrees is a safe temperature, and 170 degrees Fahrenheit is safest for chicken breasts.
The correct cooking temperatures for pork depends on the type of pork. Whole cuts of fresh pork, such as roasts, chops, or steaks are safe to eat once they have reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. They must also rest for approximately three to four minutes, during which the temperature will continue to rise. Ground pork does not need to rest; however, it must reach 160 degrees in order to destroy germs. As with checking the temperature of poultry, always place the thermometer in the thickest portion of the meat.
When cooking seafood, cooking temperatures are only one way to determine whether it is thoroughly cooked. For nearly all seafood, when the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit harmful bacteria will be destroyed. If you do not have a thermometer handy, check the appearance of the fish to ensure it is cooked. Fish that is at the appropriate temperature will flake easily and its flesh will appear opaque. Cooked lobster or shrimp will not have an opaque appearance. The flesh of this type of seafood will have a pearly look.