Cooking Temperature Guidelines

Cooking Temperature Guidelines

Cooking is used to kill pathogens (microorganisms that cause disease) in food. To accomplish this vital step, cooking requires a combination of proper time and temperature measures. The correct method to measure proper cooking is a thermocouple or thermometer.

What determines cooking time and temperature? Cooking time and temperature must account for a number of factors to effectively destroy pathogens. These factors include the type of pathogen, the characteristics of the food and the cooking procedure.

Pathogen: Cooking times and temperatures are determined in part on a pathogen’s susceptibility to heat. A pathogen’s vulnerability will depend on the type, species or life stage of pathogen. For example, several species of bacteria are resistant to heat at certain stages but may have a growing stage that is easier to destroy.

Food characteristics: Because heat penetrates into different foods at different rates, food characteristics also affect cooking temperatures. For example, foods that are high in fat or low in moisture reduce the effectiveness of heat and will need to be cooked at higher temperatures or longer times.

Cooking procedures: Cooking procedures also impact the effectiveness of heat. Charring a roast at high heat will create a layer of insulation under the charred surface. The dry surface shields the inside of the roast from heat penetration increasing the needed cooking time.

Exceptions for cooking roasts: In addition to time and temperature, whole beef or pork roasts have cooking requirements based on:

  1. Size of roast
  2. Oven type (such as dry, convection or humidity ovens)
  3. Final cooking temperature

For the specifics on cooking roasts, refer to the two charts in paragraph 3-401.11(B) of the revised food rule.

Cooking in the microwave – Animal foods cooked in a microwave must be:

  • Rotated or stirred during cooking
  • Covered to retain moisture
  • Heated to at least 165°F
  • Allowed to stand for at least two minutes after heating


Minimum Cooking Temperatures (with required durations)
165°F (for 15 seconds) ƒ Poultry

ƒ Stuffed pasta, fish, meat, poultry, ratites (emu, ostrich)

ƒ Stuffing or casseroles containing fish, meat, poultry, or ratites

ƒ All raw animal foods cooked in a microwave

ƒ Previously cooked and cooled potentially hazardous foods that are reheated for hot holding

155°F (for 15 seconds) ƒ Comminuted (ground, chopped, restructured, or combined) fish or meat, such as hamburger and sausage

ƒ Note: Additional cooking times and temperatures are available, but must be approved by the regulatory authority before use in your establishment

145°F (for 15 seconds) ƒUnpasteurized eggs (pasteurized eggs have no required cooking temperature)

ƒFish or meat, including pork, that is not stuffed or comminuted (not including roasts, or as otherwise mentioned in the above cooking temperatures)

ƒGame animals that are inspected by the USDA

145°F (surface) ƒ Whole-muscle, intact beef steaks (as labeled by the processor) that have not been scored or tenderized must be cooked to have a color change on the surface
140°F ƒ Plant foods that will be hot held

ƒ Ready-to-eat foods packaged by a food processing plant (such as hot dogs) that are heated for hot holding


Cooked food is generally safest if prepared just before service, instead of cooked in advance or cooled for service another day. Because many bacteria survive cooking temperatures, and re-contamination can easily occur, slow cooling provides opportunities for bacteria to grow or produce toxins that cause food borne illness. Therefore, cooling must happen quickly.

Cooling Requirements

Potentially hazardous foods pass through the danger zone (135°F-41°F) rapidly during cooling.

  1. From 135°F to 70°F within 2 hours
  2. From 70°F to 41°F (or 45°F*) within 4 hours This cooling provision requires temperature monitoring.

Exceptions To The Rule

Two specific methods of cooling have no time monitoring required.

  1. Shallow pan: Food must be two inches or less, uncovered, at 41°F or less
  2. Size reduction of whole meats: Intact pieces of whole (not ground, injected or comminuted) meats may be cut into slices no thicker than four inches thick. To speed cooling, the meat pieces must be spaced so they are not touching other pieces

Cooling Tips

  • Refrigerate, freeze, or put the food in ice immediately after removing from the heat source.
  • Allow for air circulation—do not overfill the refrigerator or stack cooling pans on top of each
  • Use a two inch pan to chill foods.
  • Use shallow containers to split foods into smaller portions.
  • Allow for air circulation. Rapidly chill uncovered foods chill faster.
  • If possible, substitute ice for water in the recipe. Adding ice at the end of the cooking process will help to cool the product. Remember to use a thermometer to check the temperature before placing into walk-in..
  • Use blast chillers when possible.
  • Make sure raw meat juices or contaminants can’t drip onto cooling foods.
  • Use a thermometer to make sure hot food cools:
    • From 135°F to 70°F within 2 hours
    • From 135°F to 41°F within 6 hours
  • Do not cover food in the cooling process


This article is an excerpt from the Handbook for Excellent Restaurant Operations (HERO), published by the Washington Hospitality Association.  Want a hard copy of the whole manual?  It’s one of the many benefits of becoming a member!  Find out more about joining the Washington Hospitality Association here.

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