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how to calibrate a meat thermometer

How to calibrate a meat thermometer

In cooking meat, accurate temperature readings are everything. What we mean by this is that both the quality and safety of cooked meat products highly depend on the precision of the temperature reading. The only way to do this is for food handlers to have a properly calibrated meat thermometer. Without an accurate thermometer, you'll surely be serving either undercooked meat or overdone steaks because of the constant inaccurate temperature reading. To fulfill food safety regulations in cooking different types of meat as per the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service rules, every food handler must know how to calibrate a meat thermometer.

Different types of meat require different internal cooking temperatures. These recommended core temperatures are based on eliminating foodborne pathogens that are responsible for causing foodborne illnesses worldwide. Inaccurate thermometer readings and undercooked food have caused several foodborne illnesses over the years. In fact, food safety agencies have associated most meats to be natural media of foodborne pathogens and therefore require adequate cooking to render them safe.

Let us walk you through the calibration process of a meat thermometer in this article.


What is a meat thermometer calibration guide?

A meat thermometer calibration guide is a visual tool used to help food handlers in calibrating thermometers used for measuring the core temperature of meat during cooking. Most meat thermometers are made of two major components: the cooking thermometer probe and the dial. The meat thermometer probe is designed to be pointed to easily puncture different cuts of meat and measure their internal temperatures.

Over time, meat thermometers as well as other common thermometer types may lose their accuracy in reading safe temperatures. This may be a result of constant use that loosens the joints of the device, abrupt changes in average temperature readout, or even an unexpected fall of the thermometer from a very high place. 

A dial meat thermometer calibration guide contains instructions and important notes on how to properly conduct two of the most significant methods for thermometer calibration namely:

  • Boiling point method
  • Freezing point method

These calibration procedures are described in detail with worded instructions and visualizations. Use a meat thermometer calibration guide to orient your employees through a demonstration of thermometer calibration. This guide also contains instructions on how to use an approved, calibrated reference thermometer.


Who needs a meat thermometer calibration guide?

If your food business requires the application of heat in cooking meat dishes as well as in their storage such as hot holding, then your team would find this calibration guide very useful. Whether your business is a restaurant, food truck, cafeteria, deli shop, or other food business, as long as you serve cooked meat or store meats for your operations, you would need a meat thermometer calibration guide. This tool will help your employees perform the calibration process accurately every time.

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Why is a calibration guide for meat thermometers important?

Calibration of meat thermometers helps ensure that the equipment will give you accurate readings. Proper temperature readings are important when it comes to food safety. Most recommended internal cooking temperatures are based on the minimum temperature required to kill a particular group of pathogenic microorganisms. As such, reaching this safe temperature range also ensures that the food you are serving is safe.

In addition to safety, the doneness of meat products is highly dependent on the temperature of cooking. A few degrees off of the target internal temperature may change the resulting degree of doneness for your meat products. When your meat thermometer gives an inaccurate reading, it will be almost impossible to accurately cook your meat products to the requested degree of doneness.

Calibration must be accurately and correctly performed. Using a calibration guide can help your employees perform this task. Depending on the intended use of a thermometer, the proper calibration method may vary. That is, the meat thermometer you are calibrating will be used for measuring the internal temperature of medium steaks when being cooked, then you are expected to calibrate your food thermometer using the boiling water method.


How often should you calibrate a meat thermometer?

Calibrating a meat thermometer can be as often as every shift change. Generally, most meat thermometers need to be calibrated every day before starting your operations. The only allowable temperature degree of inaccuracy from a reference thermometer is at least ±1°F or ±0.5°C. Beyond this, the thermometer must be calibrated.

Some particular instances that will require a meat thermometer to be calibrated include the following:

  • When the meat thermometer is dropped from a high place or hit against a wall or hard surface.
  • When the thermometer hasn't been used for a long time.
  • When the food thermometer is new.
  • When the thermometer is used continuously multiple times in a day. 

These situations may lead your meat thermometer to give inaccurate readings which will affect the food safety and quality standards of your process. 


What tools do you need to calibrate a meat thermometer?

Most meat thermometers are used when cooking such as an ovenproof meat thermometer. As such, the most common calibration method used for meat thermometers is the boiling point or hot water method.

To perform this method, your team will need the following materials:

  • Room temperature water
  • A glass vessel or flask that can handle boiling water
  • Wrench for adjusting the calibration nut
  • Clamp or potholder
  • Heating medium such as an induction cooker

Depending on the type of thermometer that you are trying to calibrate, a wrench may be optional. Other kinds of modern meat thermometers such as a digital meat thermometer or an instant-read thermometer have a reset button or a calibrate button to correct the temperature reading. 

In case you use an accurate meat thermometer to measure the internal temperature of your frozen meat when thawing, you will need the following tools to perform the freezing point method:

  • A glass with ice cubes that can accommodate the thermometer in ice water
  • Cold water or iced water
  • Clamp
  • Adjusting wrench

The key to having an accurate food thermometer is proper calibration on a regular basis. In doing this operation, your employees need to record every calibration performed and registered on a monitoring sheet called calibration log. This document will serve as proof that your meat thermometers will only give an accurate reading and are up to standards. Use our thermometer calibration log to record all calibration information. Find more important food safety documents such as checklists, templates, and food safety advisories from our HACCP plan template hub. 

Food Safety Management System

What are the steps to calibrate a thermometer?

Using the boiling point method, these steps must be followed:

  1. Fill a deep pan or a glass beaker with distilled water and boil over medium heat.

  2. While the water is boiling, place a previously calibrated thermometer into the water and allow it to read the temperature. 

  3. After 30 seconds or once stable, place the thermometer being calibrated and read the temperature measurements. Do not let both thermometers touch the bottom of the pan or container.

  4. If the temperature readings are not the same, ideally  212°F (100°C), adjust the calibration nut or adjustment screw until the reading is correct.

  5. Reread the temperature of the boiling water using the calibrated thermometer at least two to three times and record results on a logbook. Wash the thermometer with room temperature water in between readings.

For the ice point or freezing point method of calibrating a meat thermometer, follow these steps:

  1. Fill a glass or deep container that is large enough to accommodate the thermometer probe with crushed ice.

  2. Add distilled water or soft water into the glass and stir the ice water mixture.

  3. Submerge the thermometer probe up until the immersion mark without touching the bottom of the glass. Wait for at least 30 seconds or until the temperature reading becomes stable.

  4. If the thermometer does not read 32°F (0°C), use a wrench to adjust the calibration nut until the reading is correct.

  5. Reread the temperature of the ice water solution using the calibrated thermometer at least two to three times and record results on a logbook. Wash the thermometer with room temperature water in between readings.


How do I know if my food thermometer is accurate?

The fastest way to determine whether your food thermometer is accurate or not is to use a reference thermometer that is calibrated and approved by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Alternatively, you can recalibrate your thermometer to ensure that it is accurate.


How do you calibrate a meat thermometer without ice?

In the absence of ice for the freezing point method, you can use the boiling point method to test your meat thermometer's accuracy and calibrate it. 


What are the two methods of calibrating a meat thermometer?

The two most common methods for calibrating a meat thermometer are the boiling point method and the freezing point method.


How can I help my team keep calibration tasks in mind? 

Operations such as meat thermometer calibration require precision and regular performance to ensure the effectiveness and accurateness of thermometer readings. For such an operation, having a visible guide such as our meat thermometer calibration guide and a digital tool that helps to keep in mind calibration on time would be super useful for your team. Remembering when and how to do all the tasks at the right time can be easily forgotten. 

  • At FoodDocs, we offer a digital solution for your calibration logging needs. With our digital solution, you'll get an automatically generated calibration log that shows the assigned employee the reference temperatures for each calibration method. Using this digital monitoring log, you can easily record and keep track of your thermometer calibration activities.

  • To help you remember when to calibrate your thermometer, our digital solution sends smart notifications to remind food handlers. Our system is as flexible as it gets as it allows you to customize when these notifications will be sent to food handlers. 

  • To further help you make the process more efficient, our monitoring logs are equipped with an auto-fill feature. Our system can be set to automatically prefill your temperature logs based on previous data entries. The remaining task would only be to verify the information.

  • Digital log has visual instructions to train your team on properly completing the task. This great feature helps save your time on employee training on managing food safety risks.

Calibration log in FoodDocs

Smart food safety system for your whole company

In addition to the calibration log, we are sure that everybody is well aware of all other tasks that one food business needs to follow. With sanitation, cooking, storage, and other food safety operations in mind, how will your food employees be sure that every single task is performed on time? Your best bet to get everything done on time, correctly, and efficiently is to use our digital FSMS. You can also further save time by supervising your operations using our real-time food safety dashboard.

At FoodDocs, our digital Food Safety Management System was designed to help food handlers remember the most important food safety tasks in a food business. In just an average of 15 minutes, our system can automatically generate a comprehensive digital FSMS for your team that is based specifically on your food operations.

We understand how important it is to perform every food safety operation in time to become effective. Our team built this digital solution to make food safety compliance easier and more efficient for every food business. Experience our features yourself by using our free, 14-day trial and start your food safety compliance journey with us now.

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