Bacteria like to hang around food, especially protein foods like meats. Bacteria multiply most quickly in the range of temperatures between 40˚ and 140˚ Fahrenheit, the “danger zone.” That means, if we do not serve immediately after cooking, we need to keep cooked food hotter than 140˚ or very rapidly refrigerate it to bring it to below 40˚. Do not cool at room temperature for more than a minute or two.
When we cook meats, we need to bring them to a minimum safe internal temperature: ground meat to 160˚, poultry to 165˚, beef, veal and lamb to at least 145˚. If a recipe (for a roast, for example) calls for the meat to rest a few minutes after it is done, do not skip this step; the resting process continues to kill bacteria (resting also helps keep in the meat juices).
The taste or feel of a meat is not a reliable gauge of doneness. Use an insertion thermometer and put it into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding contact with bone. Leave it in for the length of time the manufacturer recommends. Keep it clean between uses. In addition to its food safety function, the thermometer helps you avoid overcooking the meat.
Microwave cooking poses special food temperature challenges. Most microwave instructions for processed foods assume you have a large, full-power oven. If you have a smaller, less powerful oven, you will need to increase cooking times, even if the dish appears to be done. It is a good idea to stir the food half way through the microwave process. Follow the instructions that ask you to let the food stand for a period of time after microwaving. Heat continues to transfer from hotter parts of the dish to colder areas during this waiting period. To be extra safe, use a thermometer to make sure the food has an internal temperature of at least 165˚.