More Summer Food Safety

Adam Brumberg Cornell Food and Brand Lab 197946034 Date: 06-11-2018

Modified from Dr. Henley’s previous blog contribution:

Thermometers and food safety during the summer

It is hard to deny that as the temperature rises the summer heat is here through September in some parts of the country. June through September is also when the nation observes an increase in foodborne illnesses.  The best tools to help prevent illness are a food thermometer and refrigerator/freezer thermometer.  Each is relatively low cost ($10 or less), and can be found at your local grocery or hardware store. 

A food thermometer monitors the temperature of food to ensure it is “done” and cooked to the proper temperature so it is safe to eat.  The advantages of using a food thermometer include:

  • Prevent food from being undercooked and prevent foodborne illness
  • Avoid food from being overcooked, negatively changing the flavor and texture of food
  • Useful in being sure food stays below 40 or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit when being held, such as in an ice chest or on a buffet line
  • Easy to use

When using a food thermometer remember the following best practices:

  • May need to be calibrated to ensure accuracy
  • May not be oven proof
  • After inserting the thermometer into the food allow time for the temperature to stop rising

Different foods will have different endpoint temperatures.

Is it done yet?

Refrigerator and freezer thermometers are different from a food thermometer in that they measure the temperature of where food is stored; not the temperature of the food.  They are a good investment in that they help prevent food waste. 

Refrigerators should be 40°F or colder so that food does not spoil. Most bacteria that cause foodborne illness do not survive well at these cold temperatures, keeping our milk, eggs, and produce safe to eat.

Freezers should be 0°F or colder, so that food does not defrost and spoil.  

Use the following tips to get the most benefit from refrigerator and freezer thermometers.

  • Place the thermometer in an easy to read location, such as at the front of the shelf.
  • Make a habit of reading the thermometers on a regular basis at about the same time of day. Slowly rising temperatures may be an indication the unit is not working properly.

Food and refrigerator thermometers are not just useful tools for home use. Use a refrigerator thermometer when transporting foods in an ice chest to be sure the temperatures stay below 40oF.  Food that has been above 40oF for more than 4 hours should not be consumed.  When grilling food outdoors, use a food thermometer to be sure food reaches safe temperature during cooking.

To find out more information about summer food safety, check out these other articles on summer food safety. 

Memorial Day Grilling Food Safely

Grilling Food Safely When Camping

Summer Picnic Food Safety

Keeping Your Summer Foods Safe

In summary, a food and refrigerator/freezer thermometer can help prevent: 

  • Foodborne illness
  • Under cooking foods
  • Over cooking foods
  • Food waste


Dr. Shauna Henley, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Educator, University of Maryland Extension