There are four “temperature-sensitive” areas of the kitchen that pregnant women (or those cooking for them) need to know about. They are:
- The oven
- The refrigerator
- The freezer
- Food itself that can be manually checked (e.g. a steak)
Why You Need Food Thermometers in Pregnancy
Knowing precise temperatures helps you to ensure that food is:
- Cooked to a temperature that kills most dangerous foodborne pathogens, such as Listeria or Salmonella
- Stored at a temperature that kills pathogens, or prevents them from multiplying
Throughout the articles on this site, you’ll come across the frequent mantras that such bacteria are killed at 165F, or 75C, and begin to multiply at temperatures over 40F, or 4.5C.
Guesswork and eyeballing don’t cut it when you’re trying to prepare food safely in pregnancy, so you’ll need a good quality food thermometer.
You may not need more than one – many modern fridges will have a temperature display, for example. At the very least, I recommend you have a manual probe-style thermometer for food safety. It will continue to be really useful in the kitchen after your baby is born, too.
When choosing culinary thermometers, there are two caveats:
- Analog thermometers (the old-style ‘dial’ types) are very slow at showing accurate temperatures, so digital is both faster and more accurate. You can get away with using an analog one if you have one lying around, but I’d suggest upgrading to digital.
- The second most important thing is that you don’t buy one of the poorly-made (usually sub $15/£15) digital thermometers. At that price, you’re trading economy for accuracy, which defeats the point of using it.
After considering almost a dozen different brands, I’ve shortlisted the best oven, fridge, freezer and handheld thermometers.
The Best All-Round Instant Read Food Thermometer
The type of thermometer you’ll probably use the most is the handheld, ‘instant read’ probe type. The one I use and recommend is the Lavatools Javelin Pro Duo (link to check Amazon’s price).
The Javelin Pro has multiple features needed to accurately gauge temperature and it works on hundreds of different foods. It’s well built, accurate and easy to use. I’ve had mine ever since it was recommended to me by my colleagues at BBC Food and it has never let me down.
The Best Oven Thermometers for Pregnancy-Safe Meat
One of the biggest changes to the way you’ll be cooking (or be cooked for) in pregnancy is that medium or rare meat is off the menu. Everything should be cooked through with no pink. This is usually far more than standard recipes call for, so you need a way of telling what the internal temperature of the meat is as it cooks.
If you’re cooking a steak or individual items, you can use a handheld thermometer probe (described above). Otherwise, you’ll need a way to tell how “done” the food is, while it’s still in the oven.
You have two choices, here (besides not eating roasted meat at all, which I’m not about to tell you to do!).
- You can open the oven door at frequent intervals and check the meat with a handheld thermometer, which isn’t ideal
- You can get an oven thermometer that remains in the meat as it cooks, and that you can check without opening the door.
Whether you’ll benefit from an in-oven thermometer depends on whether you cook a lot of dishes in the oven or not.
If you do use the oven a lot, I recommend the ThermoPro TP-17 Thermometer (click to check Amazon’s price).
You insert one of the Thermopro metal probes into the meat joint, casserole or whatever you’re cooking. Then, you have the control unit outside the oven door. This lets you read what’s going on inside the food, without the need to open the door or mess around with it. The different meat settings and alarms are really useful, too.
This is also great for using when food is too hot to handle. For example, if you’re grilling meat, you can use the probe to let you know when it’s done, rather then pulling it off the BBQ and stabbing or slicing it.
The Best Refrigerator and Freezer Thermometers
Some modern fridges and freezers have built-in panels that display internal temperature readings. If yours does, you won’t need anything else.
Safe temperatures are:
- Below 40F, or 4.5c in the fridge. Anything above this may cause bacteria to multiply at a faster rate.
- Below 0F, or -18c in the freezer, in order to store food safely.
I lower my main refrigerator another few degrees, just to be safer, since I open the door of mine a lot.
In fact, I have two fridges. One runs colder than the other, even on the same setting. It’s something I only found out after checking with a thermometer. Since manufacturer models differ, it might be wise to check how cold yours normally is, too. You can also use a thermometer to see if your built-in reading is accurate.
For simple yet effective fridge temperature readings, I recommend this two-pack of simple LCD thermometers (click to check Amazon’s Price).
You can put one in the fridge, and one in the freezer. They’re cheap and cheerful, yet accurate enough to see if your fridge and freezer are operating at a safe temperature.
Temperatures can change depending on how full a fridge or freezer is, and other factors like adding room temperature food to them. Maintaining a safe, cold temperature is an easy step you can take towards storing food safely when you’re pregnant.
If you’re a keen home cook, then you might also like this article on food prep accessories and other food hygiene equipment. There’s also some recommendations on how to keep your hands more hygienic and kitchen surfaces clean and pregnancy-safe in a more natural way, too.
Alternatively you can get someone else to do the cleaning and check out some pregnancy-safe food and treats instead!