Posted on: November 23, 2023

How to Calibrate Thermometers for Food and Beverage Service

How to Calibrate Thermometers for Food and Beverage Service

Calibrating thermometers is an essential food and beverage service practice that often goes overlooked or underestimated. A calibrated thermometer not only guarantees accurate temperature readings but also ensures the consistency and quality of your food.

In this blog, we'll explore the importance of temperature accuracy, discuss the tools and methods used for calibration, and provide step-by-step guidance to help you achieve optimal calibration results. By the end of this blog, you'll understand how to calibrate your thermometer so that you can elevate your craft to new heights.

What Is the Most Accurate Method for Calibrating Bimetallic Thermometers?

To calibrate a thermometer, follow these general steps: 

1. Gather the Necessary Tools

You will need a calibration reference, such as a certified reference thermometer or a calibration bath, as well as a suitable heat source or cooling medium (e.g., ice or boiling water). 

2. Check the Thermometer

Ensure the thermometer is clean, undamaged, and in good working condition. Look for any signs of wear or inaccuracy.

3. Determine the Calibration Method

Choose an appropriate calibration method depending on the type of thermometer you have (digital, bimetallic, mercury). The boiling point method and ice-point method for calibrating thermometers are two common methods (steps included below), but some digital thermometers may have specific calibration instructions provided by the manufacturer.

4. Document the Calibration

Record the calibration results, including the before and after readings, any adjustments made, and the calibration date. This documentation is essential for quality control and tracking the thermometer's accuracy over time.

5. Regular Calibration Schedule

Maintaining a properly calibrated food thermometer is crucial for ensuring the safety of the food you prepare and serve. It's important to make sure you regularly test your thermometer to keep it accurate over time. The frequency of calibration depends on the type of thermometer, its usage, and any applicable regulatory requirements. Some thermometers may require calibration every few months, while others may need it annually or less frequently. 

When Do I Recalibrate the Thermometer?

Here are a few recommendations to determine when you should recalibrate your thermometers: 

  • Bimetal thermometers should be calibrated before every shift 
  • Digital thermometers should be calibrated every week or month 
  • New thermometers or thermometers that have fallen should always be calibrated 
  • Calibrate a thermometer after using it to measure significantly different temperatures 

You should always check the manufacturer's instructions to achieve the best results.

How Do I Calibrate a Thermometer? 

To calibrate a bimetallic thermometer, you typically need a controlled heat source or a stable reference temperature. There are two common methods used for thermometer calibration in food service: 

  1. The boiling point method
  2. The freezing point method 

Here’s how each process works: 

1. The Boiling Point Method 

In this method, you use the boiling point of water, which is 212° Fahrenheit (100° Celsius) at sea level. 

The steps are as follows: 

  1. Know what the boiling point of water in your area is 
  2. Place the bimetallic thermometer in a pot of boiling water, ensuring the sensing area is fully immersed 
  3. Make sure the thermometer is not touching the pot
  4. Wait for the reading to stabilize and adjust the calibration screw or nut to match the boiling point of 212° Fahrenheit (100° Celsius) 

Consider any altitude adjustments needed based on your location. 

2. The Freezing Point Method 

This method relies on water freezing at a constant temperature of 32° Fahrenheit (0° Celsius) at sea level. 

The steps are as follows: 

  1. Fill a glass with crushed ice. 
  2. Add clean tap water until the container is full 
  3. Stir the mixture well
  4. Immerse the sensing area of the bimetallic thermometer in the ice water 
  5. Make sure the thermometer is not touching the bottom or sides of the glass 
  6. Wait 30 seconds or until the reading stabilizes 
  7. Adjust the calibration screw or nut on the thermometer to ensure it reads 32° Fahrenheit (0° Celsius) 

Keep in mind that altitude and atmospheric pressure can affect the freezing point, so adjustments may be necessary. 

Types of Thermometers 

Liquid-Filled Thermometer 

Certain liquid-filled thermometers offer the option of calibration by adjusting the positioning of the thermometer stem within the holder. For detailed instructions, refer to the product instructions. 

Digital Thermometer 

When calibrating a digital thermometer, locate the reset button. If the thermometer lacks a reset button, it might not be adjustable for calibration. Consult the accompanying product instructions for specific information.

Bimetal Thermometer 

If you use a bimetal thermometer, check for a calibration nut below the display dial. You might require a wrench or pliers to rotate the nut.

Adjusting the Thermometer

Your thermometer should measure temperature accurately to plus or minus 2°F (1°C). If you observe a larger deviation when testing the thermometer's accuracy, it requires adjustment. If it is impossible to calibrate an inaccurate thermometer, it is advisable to replace it. Using inaccurate thermometers can result in inspection violations for your business. Since every thermometer is unique, the most effective approach to learning how to calibrate your specific thermometer is by referring to the accompanying instructions. 

What Is One Effective Way to Calibrate a Thermometer Food Handlers? 

As a food handler, knowing the most effective method for calibrating a thermometer is important because you want your food to be safe and compliant.

If you frequently use your thermometer for hot foods, it is recommended to consider the boiling point method for calibration. Remember that water's boiling point varies depending on the altitude. To employ this method, it is essential to be aware of the boiling point of water in your specific location, typically between 190 and 212°F (88–100°C).

It is essential to exercise caution while performing this thermometer calibration procedure to avoid potential hazards. Be mindful of the risk of burns during the process. The Food Safety and Inspection Service suggests securing the thermometer by clipping it into the stem sheath. You can safely immerse the thermometer in the water by holding the sheath horizontally.

If you frequently use your thermometer to measure the temperature of cold foods, the freezing point method, also called the ice point method, is likely the simplest way to calibrate it. This method is recommended when calibrating thermometers for cold temperature measurements.

While this method is relatively safer than the boiling point method, attaching the thermometer to its stem sheath is still advisable. Holding the sheath horizontally ensures the thermometer remains in place as you carefully lower it into the water.

By choosing and following the best method for your situation, you can ensure that your thermometers are accurately calibrated for measuring temperatures during food preparation and cooking. Remember, it's important to perform regular calibration to maintain the thermometer's accuracy and ensure food safety.

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