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Houston Department of Health and Human Services > Food Inspection and Safety (Consumer Health) > Food Safety Tips > Using Food Thermometers

Using Food Thermometers

Do you know how important that food thermometer is? To be safe, check the internal temperature of the cooked ground beef products while cooking burgers.

Food safety officials at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) urge consumers and cooks to use an accurate food thermometer when cooking ground beef patties. Research shows the color of meat is not a reliable indicator the meat has reached a temperature high enough to destroy harmful bacteria such as E. Coli 0157:H7. Restaurant chefs need to know that the only way to be sure a ground beef patty is cooked to a high enough temperature to destroy illness-causing microorganisms is by using a thermometer. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Services’ studies show that the color of cooked ground beef patties can be quite variable. At 160°F, a safely cooked patty may look brown, pink or some variation of brown or pink. If you cook your burger to 160°F on an instant-read thermometer, you can enjoy a safe, juicy hamburger. Click here to visit the FSIS web site. 

The USDA food safety officials also recommend that consumers should not eat ground beef patties that are pink or red in the middle unless a food thermometer has been used to verify the cooked temperature. According to collected data, eating pink ground beef patties without verifying the cooking temperature is a significant risk factor for food borne illness. This information is especially important to those who cook or serve ground beef patties to people most at risk for food borne illness because E. Coli 0157:H7 can lead to serious illness or even death. Those most at risk include young children, the elderly and those who are immunocompromised.

These recommendations are based on the research findings presented at a public meeting in May 1998. USDA researchers who prepared and cooked patties from ground beef purchased from various locations across the country found that over a quarter of the fresh ground beef patties turned prematurely brown before reaching the safe temperature of 160°F.


  • Use an accurate digital instant-read food thermometer to check the temperature throughout the patty. The temperature must reach 160°F. Digital food thermometers are designed to be used toward the end of the cooking time and register a temperature in about ten seconds. They must penetrate about 1 inch into the food. If a ground beef patty is not thick enough to check from the top, or if an instant-read dial type thermometer is used, the thermometer may be inserted sideways.
  • Large dial food thermometers designed for testing whole poultry and roasts during cooking are not suitable for testing beef patties.
  • At 160°F a safely cooked ground beef patty may look brown, pink or some variation depending on a variety of factors, such as whether the ground beef was fresh or frozen, or how it was thawed.
  • Be sure to wash and sanitize the thermometer probe area immediately after testing an undercooked patty, and when cooking is completed.
  • When eating out, ask your server if the ground beef patties have been cooked to at least 155°F for fifteen seconds, which is a safe option for restaurant or other food service operations.

USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-455 (1-800-256-7072 TDD)

For more information about this article, or any other information, please call the Bureau of Consumer Health Services, at 713-794-9200.

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