The use of meat thermometers in home kitchens on the island of Ireland

L.E. Hollywood, RK Price, Samuel Ward, U McMahon-Beattie,, Adele Boyd, Martin Devaney, Amanda McCloat, Elaine Mooney, Monique Raats

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review


safefood’s current advice on how to check whether meat is cooked properly is based on three physical
checks; making sure the meat is piping hot, that the juices run clear and that for meats that need to be
cooked well done, there is no pink meat. This advice was given priority because of low ownership and use
of meat thermometers on the island of Ireland (IoI). However, meat thermometers are the fail-safe way to
check that meat is done properly. This project aimed to investigate current perceptions and trends in the
use of meat thermometers by consumers on the IoI, and to assess behaviours and attitudes towards meat
thermometers and their reported usage. To achieve the project objectives three stages were carried out, a
rapid review, focus groups and a consumer survey.
Rapid review
The rapid review of available academic studies and grey literature (e.g., government reports) yielded 44
papers. These papers found that meat thermometer use has steadily increased in the USA and Canada
since 1998, from 49% usage in 1998 to 70% in 2010. This may be the result of targeted campaign
interventions to encourage usage (the Fight BAC/Thermy campaign in 2000 and the “Is It Done Yet?”
campaign in 2004 were both conducted in the USA). Although fewer research studies on meat
thermometer use in Europe were identified, three conducted in the UK and Republic of Ireland (RoI)
stating a 2-5% usage and two in mainland Europe (Netherlands and Belgium) reporting 0.8-11% meat
thermometer usage, the published research would indicate that usage is lower than in the USA and
Focus Groups
Sixty-five participants (50 female; 15 male) from a wide geographical spread across the IoI were recruited.
Results demonstrated that the most commonly reported measure (n=40) of assessing the doneness of
meat was to check that there was no pink meat, and that juices ran clear from the meat (this practice
was most commonly used when cooking poultry). Potential motivators of meat thermometer use
included: social responsibility; as a means of improving the quality of meat; ease of use; and the
distribution of meat thermometers without cost. Barriers to use included a perception that meat
thermometers were expensive; a lack of exposure to meat thermometers in a domestic setting; the idea
that a meat thermometer would be problematic to maintain and contribute to kitchen clutter; and that
meat thermometers were used by either highly experienced or inexperienced cooks. Sources of
information on the safe cooking of meat used by the participants included family members, butchers,
recipe leaflets, internet sources, Home Economics class, and television.v
Consumer Survey
A survey was conducted on 1,052 individuals across the island of Ireland to provide a quantitative tool for
the assessment of consumers’ perceptions and self-reported meat thermometer usage and ownership.
The results found that 15.7% (n=165) of participants stated that they used a meat thermometer when
cooking meat. 17.4% (n=183) of participants stated that they owned a meat thermometer, meaning there
is an ownership-usage gap (those own but do not use) of 1.7%. This percentage is relatively small
compared to the USA and Canada. According to the Transtheoretical Model of Change (Shapiro et al,
2011), most participants (86.5%) were in the “pre-contemplation” stage of behavioural change: they had
never used a meat thermometer, nor ever thought about doing so. Both meat thermometer owners and
non-owners had a poor understanding of meat thermometer insertion methods (ranging from 21.4%
accuracy for burgers, 51.7% for roasts), and of the safe end-point temperature of meat which ranged
from 30 - 260℃.
“Attitude” (a belief that a meat thermometer prevented food poisoning, and that food poisoning was a
risk) significantly predicted meat thermometer use when cooking roasts and small cuts of meat (but no
other meat types). Meanwhile, perceived behavioural control (i.e. ease of use) significantly predicted
meat thermometer use on whole chicken (but no other meat types). Subjective norms did not
significantly influence meat thermometer use on any meat type. This would suggest that effectively
communicating the risk of food poisoning from undercooked meat, and that a meat thermometer can
prevent food poisoning, might encourage usage levels when cooking roasts and small cuts such as
chicken breasts or beef burgers. Effectively communicating the ease with which a meat thermometer
might be used may increase levels of use on whole chicken. This could be done via social media networks
or informal peer-to-peer networks to promote meat thermometer use. Meat producers could also be
encouraged to print recommendations to use a meat thermometer (and how to do so properly) on
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationRepublic of Ireland
Commissioning bodySafefood, the Food Safety Promotion Board
Number of pages104
ISBN (Electronic) 978-1-905767-97-7
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2021


  • meat thermometers, food safety, temperatures

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