Last Updated on October 12, 2021
A meat thermometer is an essential safety tool in the kitchen. Foods such as fish, chicken, beef, or pork, require safe internal temperatures to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses that linger in undercooked meat. By checking your food’s internal temperature with a meat thermometer, you can ensure the food you serve is safe.
Meat thermometers are a great tool in the kitchen, but you may have wondered whether they work for human body temperatures. If you fall ill and can’t find your thermometer, it seems logical that a meat thermometer could be used instead. The question is, can you use a meat thermometer to take your temperature?
1. How Do Meat Thermometers Work?
Image Courtesy to Christina Xu
Meat thermometers are built to measure the internal temperature of different meats. Although they can read lower values, they are primarily designed to pick up temperatures between 130°F-200°F.
Digital and dial meat thermometers
Digital and dial meat thermometers have a pointed metal rod that is inserted into the center of the meet. This metal rod contracts as the meat heats up, which causes the digital or dial readout to display a temperature reading.
Digital thermometers display the temperature to one decimal which gives a detailed, accurate reading.
Dial displays are often round and sometimes measure in increments of 5°. This accuracy works for meats but is not as detailed as a digital display reading.
Infrared meat thermometers
Infrared thermometers work by measuring the infrared light emitted from an object. A detector called a thermopile senses this infrared radiation then displays the information as a temperature reading.
Infrared thermometers aren’t recommended for meats because only surface temperature is recorded. To get an accurate internal temperature, you need to cut open the meat and point the thermometer into the center.
2. How Do Body Thermometers Work?
Body thermometers are designed and calibrated to measure normal human body temperatures. Although they can pick up on a wide range of temperatures, they are designed to accurately read temperatures between about 60°F-110°F.
Digital & glass thermometers
For many years, digital and glass thermometers have been the common at-home thermometers. Digital thermometers contain what amounts to a small computer that senses changes in temperature and registers the information in degrees. Glass thermometers were filled with mercury or alcohol that expanded and moved up a manually printed scale on the thermometer.
Temperatures are taken by inserting the curved metal or glass end of the thermometer under the armpit and in the rectum or ear.
Of these thermometers, digital is by far the most commonly used today. They are usually accurate to within one decimal point and register temperatures quickly.
Infrared, thermal, and no-contact thermometers
With the contact concerns of Covid-19, infrared and thermal thermometers have become more commonplace and are the preferred method of measuring body temperature. These thermometers work the same as general use infrared thermometers; however, they are not the same in terms of accuracy. They are typically pointed at the forehead to register radiant heat.
Medical-grade infrared thermometers can be specially calibrated to account for changes in human skin which can affect readings. There are also infrared thermometers approved by the FDA, which enforce higher quality standards during the manufacturing process.
3. Why Meat Thermometers Don’t Work on Humans?
Can you use a meat thermometer to take your temperature? Unfortunately, not. Although meat thermometers can measure temperatures within human range accurately, they are unsuitable for use on the human body for several reasons, including:
Different temperature ranges
Meat thermometers are designed to pick up on the safe internal temperatures for meats, while body thermometers are best at registering normal human body temperatures. Meats need to reach between 145°F-165°F for safe consumption. A healthy human body rests at 98.6°F, with a relatively small variation in temperature when fighting an illness. You want to use a thermometer designed to pick up the correct temperature range for your body to get an accurate reading.
Aside from infrared thermometers, meat thermometers are not designed for the human body. Meat thermometers have a pointed metal end meant to pierce the skin on meat and get an internal temp. Body thermometers are curved to protect sensitive body parts. Using a meat thermometer on a human body could be a painful experience.
Calibration refers to configuring a thermometer to pick up and translate information accurately. To calibrate means to remove anything that might cause inaccuracy in a reading. Meat thermometers are calibrated to read internal meat temperatures accurately. Human thermometers are calibrated to be more sensitive and accurate in picking up body temperatures.
Inaccurate infrared guns
Infrared thermometers seem like they could be used for human temps, but this is still not a great choice. The calibration and accuracy of general use thermometers to take a human temperature is a factor. While infrared thermometers might give a decent reading, unless designed, calibrated, and approved for human use, the readings can not be as trustworthy as a thermometer intended for the human body.
FDA approval & medical grade
If getting an accurate body reading is important to you, there is no substitute for using an FDA-approved or medical-grade thermometer. Meat thermometers don’t undergo the same process as FDA-approved thermometers. They are not held to the same standards during production or testing.
There are also sanitary concerns about using a meat thermometer to take your temperature. Meat thermometers are stuck into meat which can carry bacteria and pathogens. Unless you can be 100% sure you’ve killed any cross-contamination, you may not want to put this near your body, especially your mouth.