Internal Temperature

Testing the interior of meat with a meat thermometer is the most accurate method of testing doneness.Thermometers are of two types:standard,which are inserted before roasting and left in the roast; and instant-read, which are inserted at any time, read as soon as the needle stops moving, and pulled out.Whatever thermometer you use,make sure it is clean and sanitary before inserting it in the meat.

The tip of the thermometer should be inserted into the center of the thickest part of the flesh, not touching fat or bone.Table 10.3 gives internal temperatures of meats at various degrees of doneness.

In general, regional traditions of eating well-done or overcooked meats are decreasing, and more people are eating meat cooked rare. For decades, meats cooked to an internal temperature of 140°F (60°C) were called rare, but by today's standards, this is more like medium. Current preferences are reflected in the temperatures given in Table 10.3.

It should be stated that the USDA and other agencies caution that meats may contain harmful bacteria and parasites. Although studies are still being done, these agencies suggest that meats should be cooked to at least 145°F (63°C) in order to be completely safe.The USDA requires that beef precooked for food service sale (such as precooked roast beef for sandwiches) be heated to an internal temperature of at least 145°F (63°C) when it is processed.

You may recall from Chapter 2 that cooking foods to lower temperatures can make them safe.Note,however,that according to Table 2.3 on page 29,the lower the final internal temperature, the longer the product must be held at that temperature.Thus,for example, a roast may be brought to an internal temperature of only 130°F (54°C), but it can be considered safe only if it is held at that temperature for at least 112 minutes.

Clearly, it is not possible to keep a rare steak at its final temperature for 112 minutes before serving it. According to safety standards, then, rare steaks are not considered safe.Those who prefer their steaks rare, however, are not likely to be swayed by this argument and will continue to request meat done to their liking. Each food service operator has to decide whether to please these customers or to follow food safety guidelines.

In any case, whether or not 145°F (63°C) is the lowest safe temperature for cooking most meats, it is not really accurate to call it rare.

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