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Wednesday, September 22, 2010 • Posted September 22, 2010

Doneness Versus Safety

I had a great Food Safety class for restaurant managers this week, so food safety’s on my mind right now. A while back I was cooking pork tenderloin, and it seems as though I never know exactly how long to cook it. I figured if I was having this problem, you all might be too, hence the food safety reminder. I am embarrassed to say I completely forgot about using my food thermometer and so I really overcooked it!

How do you know if your meat is thoroughly cooked? Is "done" the same as "safe"? The Partnership for Food Safety Education has launched a food safety campaign called Fight BAC!, and it stresses four simple steps that are critical to food safety:

* Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often;

* Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate;

* Cook: Cook to proper temperatures;

* Chill: Refrigerate promptly.

These four steps are considered by food safety experts to be critical control points to preventing foodborne illness. A critical control point is a process or handling practice that has been identified as being essential or critical in preventing foodborne illness. These practices, which prevent or control the harmful bacteria associated with foodborne illness, are under the direct control of the consumer. They are purchasing, storing, pre-preparing, cooking, serving, and handling leftovers. Failure to take appropriate action at these critical points could result in foodborne illness.

Cooking: A Critical Control Point

Food safety experts agree that foods are properly cooked when they are heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. How can you tell if food has been heated thoroughly? The only accurate way is to use a food thermometer, which measures the internal temperature of cooked meat and poultry. There are some foods, such as poultry, that will give visual signs of "doneness," but other foods, such as ground beef, will not.

What Is "Done"?

Webster's dictionary defines "doneness" as the condition of being cooked to the desired degree. While food safety experts stress the internal temperature that ensures destruction of pathogens in food, "doneness" reflects subjective qualities such as the appearance, texture, and optimum flavor of a food.

Recent research has shown that these indicators are not reliable for safety. Only a food thermometer can be relied upon to accurately ensure bacterial destruction. Visual signs of doneness should be reserved for situations in which doneness is reached after the food has reached a safe temperature.

What is "Safe"?

Poultry

For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook poultry to higher temperatures. Use a food thermometer to assure that meat and poultry have reached a safe minimum internal temperature.

Although a whole chicken or turkey and poultry parts will visually indicate that they have been thoroughly cooked, stuffed poultry will not. There is no way that a consumer can tell by the juices, the tenderness or color of the flesh, or even by wiggling a drumstick if the center of the stuffing has reached 165

Beef

Beef roasts cooked to 160

Pork

Pork roasts are safe when cooked to 160

Ground Meat and Poultry

Research indicates that the color of the meat and the color of the juices are not accurate indicators of doneness. Ground beef may turn brown before it has reached a temperature at which bacteria are destroyed. A consumer preparing hamburger patties and depending on visual signs to determine safety by using the brown color as an indicator is taking a chance that pathogenic microorganisms may survive.

A hamburger cooked to 160

Combination Dishes

Casseroles and other combination dishes must be cooked to 165

No More Guesswork

Using an accurate food thermometer takes the guesswork out of cooking.

No more cutting into your turkey or beef roast to see if it looks done.

Simply place the food thermometer into the food and it will indicate the temperature the food has reached. You'll know if it needs to cook a few minutes more or if it is finished. This is especially helpful with combination dishes such as lasagne or egg casseroles that may brown on the top before they heat through.

By using a food thermometer on a regular basis, consumers can be assured that the food they cook is "done" as well as safe.

oF. Only by verifying the internal temperature of both the bird and the stuffing with a food thermometer can a consumer be sure the product has been thoroughly cooked.oF will generally have very little pinkness to the meat, and the juices will not be pink or red. Below the temperature of 160oF, the center of the roast will be pink or red, depending on the internal temperature. A beef roast cooked to 145oF in the center can be considered safe since the exterior of the roast would have reached a temperature high enough to destroy bacteria, unless it is a rolled roast or one that has been mechanically tenderized. A consumer would not be able to determine if a roast that was pink in the center had reached the safe temperature of 145oF without a food thermometer.oF even though the center of the roast may be somewhat pink. Pork chops may have just a trace of pink color at this temperature. Again, a consumer would not be able to determine visually if a pork roast that was pink in the center had reached a safe temperature.oF, measured with a food thermometer throughout the patty, is safe - regardless of color.oF as measured with a food thermometer. These dishes are traditionally composed of cooked foods and then heated to combine flavors. Pathogenic bacteria could survive, however, if the meat or poultry component of a casserole was merely "browned" and the casserole was not subsequently heated thoroughly, especially if the dish was assembled in advance and refrigerated. These dishes display no visible signs of doneness. The visual descriptor "until hot and steamy" is difficult to verify. Only by using a food thermometer could a consumer be sure it had been heated to a safe temperature.

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