Safe Internal Temperatures for Food
Raw animal products like meats may carry pathogens — harmful strains of bacteria like Salmonella and E. Coli that can make people sick.
The good news is that you can kill these pathogens by cooking animal products to a certain internal temperature.
This article is your guide to everything you need to know about safe internal temperatures for meat, poultry, seafood, and other animal-based dishes.
Safe internal temperatures
Meats and other animal products are the primary carriers for foodborne pathogens, including Campylobacter species, Salmonella, E. Coli, and Listeria monocytogenes (1).
These bacteria can make people seriously sick, especially susceptible populations such as older adults, people with conditions that weaken the immune system like cancer and diabetes, pregnant women, and children.
Cooking destroys any foodborne pathogens that may be present in animal products but only when they’re cooked to a minimum internal temperature.
Unfortunately, failing to cook food adequately, and consequently allowing the pathogens to survive, is one of the top five reasons foodborne illnesses occur and spread (2).
The minimum internal temperature varies depending on the animal or animal product.
In general, the more handling or processing a food receives, the higher its minimum internal temperature requirement.
This is because there are more opportunities for contamination with increased handling and processing.
Here’s a look at the minimum internal temperatures for meats, poultry, seafood, and other animal-based products (2):
|Minimum Internal Temperature||Food|
|165ºF (74ºC) < 1 second (instantaneous)||• Poultry, including chicken, turkey, and duck|
• Stuffing made with fish, meat, or poultry
• Stuffed meat, seafood, poultry, or pasta
• Dishes that contain previously cooked TCS ingredients
• Previously cooked TCS foods reheated for hot-holding
• Wild game animals
|155ºF (68ºC) for 17 seconds||• Ground meat, including beef, pork, and other meats|
• Injected meats, including brined ham and other flavor-injected roasts
• Mechanically tenderized meat
• Ground seafood, including chopped or minced
• Shell eggs that will be hot-held for service
• Ratites, including ostrich and emu
|145ºF (63ºC) for 15 seconds||• Seafood, including whole fish and shellfish|
• Meats, including whole cuts of pork, beef, veal, and lamb
• Commercially-raised game like rabbits
• Shell eggs served immediately
|145ºF (63ºC) for 4 minutes|
Alternate cooking times:
• 130ºF (54ºC) – 112 minutes
• 131ºF (55ºC) – 89 minutes
• 133ºF (56ºC) – 56 minutes
• 135ºF (57ºC) – 36 minutes
• 136ºF (58ºC) – 28 minutes
• 138ºF (59ºC) – 18 minutes
• 140ºF (60ºC) – 12 minutes
• 142ºF (61ºC) – 8 minutes
• 144ºF (62ºC) – 5 minutes
• 145ºF (63ºC) – 4 minutes
|• Roasts, including pork, beef, veal, and lamb|
Store these foods in the fridge in order of their minimum internal cooking temperature, with those that require the highest on the bottom.
Here is the proper storage order for refrigerated foods, in order of top to bottom:
- ready-to-eat foods and leftovers
- whole cuts of beef and pork
- ground meats and seafood
- whole and ground poultry
You can kill pathogens and make animal and animal-based foods safe by cooking them to their minimum internal temperature. In general, the more handling and processing involved, the higher the internal temperature.
Safety when serving undercooked meats to customers
I don’t know about you, but I, along with many others, don’t like a well-done steak.
It’s OK to serve raw or undercooked animal and animal-based products, but you must disclose this to the customer next to those items so they understand the risk.
This is typically done with an asterisk next to the item that points consumers to a footnote, which must state the item is raw or undercooked or that it contains raw or undercooked ingredients.
Alternatively, you can use a nonspecific reminder on the menu that reminds consumers that consuming raw or undercooked foods or ingredients increases the risk of foodborne illnesses.
Here is one example: “Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.”
However, if your establishment serves a susceptible population, such as an assisted living facility, nursing home, or child or adult care center, you cannot serve undercooked or raw animal foods, such as sushi or partially cooked meats like a medium-rare steak.
You also cannot serve soft-cooked, undercooked, or sunny-side eggs unless they have been pasteurized.
This is because these populations are much more likely to get sick from eating undercooked or raw animal foods compared with a person with a healthy immune system.
You must notify the consumer if you serve raw or undercooked animal products. You cannot serve these items if your establishment is a nursing home, assisted living facility, or child or adult care center.
Safe food thermometer techniques
Color is an inaccurate indicator of whether a food has reached a safe internal temperature.
Instead, you must use a calibrated food thermometer to verify.
Insert the thermometer probe or stem into the thickest part of the meat, away from bone, fat, or gristle.
Do this in several places if you’re cooking a larger item like a beef roast to ensure all areas reach a safe internal temperature.
For pork chops, hamburger patties, and other thin meats, insert the probe into the side of the food so the sensing area reaches the center of the food.
Remember to sanitize the thermometer stem before and after each temperature check.
You must use a digital or dial thermometer like a thermocouple or bimetal to check the temperature, not an infrared thermometer, which only measures surface temperature.
Use a calibrated food thermometer to verify whether a food has reached a safe internal temperature. Sanitize the prob or stem before and after each use.
The bottom line
Raw animal and animal-based products commonly carry harmful bacteria that can make people sick.
You can destroy these bacteria by cooking them to their safe internal temperature, which varies based on the handling and processing a food receives.
If you serve undercooked or raw animal products, you must inform the consumer.
But, you cannot serve undercooked or raw animal products to susceptible populations.
Use a calibrated thermometer to verify that food has reached a safe internal temperature.
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