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Taking Food Temperatures – Why and How



Nutrition staff member to deliver this inservice to kitchen staff.  Thermometers should be available during inservice for calibration activity.


Food-borne illness is a disease carried to people by food. It is becoming more and more of a concern for those who run food-service establishments. Each year there are outbreaks in foods ranging from hamburgers to produce like spinach or berries. There are many ways to prevent food borne illness but one important way is to make sure food is prepared, stored, and held at the proper temperature. Proper use of a thermometer can help assure that the food prepared in your kitchen is safe to eat.  

Quick reading to review topic:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Food Borne Illness.  Available at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/foodborneinfections_g.htm

National Sanitation Foundation website Fact Sheets. Available at http://www.nsf.org/consumer/food_safety/index.asp?program=FoodSaf. Accessed June 12, 2007

US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service Fact Sheets available on-line at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/index.asp. Accessed June 12, 2007.

  1. Staff members will list 2 reasons why taking temperatures is important in food service
  2. Staff members will be familiar with 2 different types of thermometers
  3. Staff members will know the proper technique for using and calibrating a bimetallic stemmed thermometer.

Make copies of this handout  http://www.fsis.usda.gov/PDF/IsItDoneYet_Brochure.pdf to give to participants.


1. Temperatures are an important part of the food safety program in any institutional kitchen

  1. Foods cooked to the proper temperatures do not allow bacteria to grow. If bacteria does not grow, people who eat the food will not get food borne illness.
  2. Foods stored at the right temperatures do not allow bacteria to grow. If  bacteria doesn’t grow, people who eat the food will not get food borne illness
  3. Foods taste better if they are served at the right temperature.
  4. The agencies that regulate us (local, state, and federal agencies) expect us to store, cook, and hold our foods at safe temperatures as part of good food handling practices.

2. Temperatures should be taken and recorded daily on food storage equipment to assure they are
    working properly.

  1. Take temperatures of refrigerators and freezers to assure safe food storage
  2. Record the temperatures daily
  3. Report abnormal temperatures to your supervisor.

3. Foods should be cooked and held at the proper temperatures prevent bacteria from growing.

  1. Take temperatures of all foods to be served at each meal. Document and keep on file in kitchen.
  2. Take temperatures of foods while they are being held before serving.   
    Document and keep on file in kitchen.
  3. Take temperatures of foods during the cooling or reheating process to assure foods are safely cooled and heated.

4. Proper foods temperatures:

  1. Refrigerators:  41 degrees or less
  2. Freezers:  0 degrees or less
  3. Cooking foods: varies depending on the food item (use handout to review food temps, emphasizing foods that are commonly served)
  4. Holding of foods: Hot foods at 135 degrees or higher
  5. Cooling foods: Cool to 41 degrees within 4-6 hours (check your local food code to see which is true for your area).
  6. Reheating foods:  Reheat to 165 degrees for 15 seconds and within 2 hours

5. How to take a food temperature:

    a. Bimetallic stemmed thermometer
       a. Calibrate thermometer (see below)
       b. Place clean thermometer in food. Be sure the thermometer is placed in the thickest
           part of the food and that the small “eye” on the stem is placed in the food whose temperature
           you are taking.
    b. Digital thermometer
        a. Place clean thermometer in food. Be sure the thermometer is place in the thickest part
           of the food before reading the temperature.

6. Why calibrate a thermometer?

  1. Calibration assures an accurate temperature reading

7. How to calibrate a bimetallic stemmed thermometer

  1. Place the thermometer stem in a 50/50 mixture of ice and water. Thermometer should read 32 degrees.
  2. Or place the thermometer in a cup of boiling water Thermometer should read 212 degrees (or the correct boiling point for your elevation).
  3. Adjust thermometer as needed using the tool that came with the thermometer or a wrench.
  4. Calibrate regularly (as per your facility protocol) to assure accurate readings.


Using ice water, have each staff member calibrate a bimetallic stem thermometer.

Taking Food Temps: Why and How
Pre and Post Test


1. True or false: Storing foods at the right temperature is one way to help avoid food borne illness.

2. Cold (refrigerated) foods should be stored at:

  1. 32 degrees or less
  2. 41 degrees or more
  3. 41 degrees or less
  4. 0 degrees or less

3. True or false:  A digital or bimetallic stem thermometer can be used to measure food temperatures

4. When checking temperatures on foods on the serving line, check:

  1. Only the entrée at each meal
  2. All foods on the line at each meal
  3. All foods on the line one time daily
  4. Only the hot foods on the serving line

5. True or false: Hot foods should be held at 155 degrees or higher.

Answer key:


  1. True
  2. c. 41 degrees or less
  3. True
  4. b.  All foods on the line at each meal
  5. False



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