Cooking - It All Goes Back to Science by Melissa Vaccaro

Have you ever found yourself asking…Why do we have to cook our food to a certain temperature? Who determined this temperature? Why are there different temperatures for different types of food?

It all goes back to science. The goal of cooking is to reduce the number of organisms (i.e., pathogens or harmful germs) that might be present on food to an acceptable level. This level will ensure that people do not get sick. Remember, cooking does not make food sterile or free of all organisms, it reduces them to safe levels.

In order to find the right temperature to make food safe, scientists perform a variety of studies using the “pathogen of concern” for a particular food. For example - studies, outbreaks, recalls, and illnesses have told us, that sometimes raw chicken can have Salmonella on it. The studies to determine what temperature chicken should be cooked to are based on what temperature Salmonella will be destroyed. For ground beef, we might focus on E. coli as the pathogen of concern. Using a series of laboratory studies, scientists can tell us what temperature to cook chicken to ensure that Salmonella is reduced to safe levels. The level we are looking at is often called a 5-log reduction. This equates to 99.999% destruction of the pathogen of concern, but not its total destruction.

Why not just cook all foods to the same temperature? You could, but it would need to be the highest temperature that would destroy the largest variety of pathogens. You only need to cook pork chops to 145°F to make them safe to eat. If you cook it to 165°F, it will be safe to eat, but the pork chop will likely be dry and not great quality. For the best quality and to ensure safety at the same time, you can cook pork chops to 145°F.

No need for you to think about cooking temperatures, the work has been done for you. The FDA published the Model Food Code which includes the safe minimum temperatures to ensure food safety. Keep in mind, if you don’t want to follow these pre-set cooking temperatures, you will likely have to provide a Consumer Advisory letting your customers know any foods that are undercooked. People with certain medical conditions can be at risk if they consume undercooked food so it is vital to be transparent.

To ensure best quality and safe food, cook to the recommended temperature always!

This blog is not intended to be a substitute for the user's judgement and common sense. Any errors are unintentional. 

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