Does anyone know if using a thermometer to steam milk is required by health code? If so, does it vary by location? I live in Dallas, TX. I am being required to use a thermometer by my supervisors. They are saying it's a health code issue.

More often than not the thermometers are out of whack and need calibrating and I usually end up steaming the milk by touch/sound.

For me, the thermometer just gets in the way. I am consistent with my milk and always hit between 140-150 degrees.

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I have never heard of it being required anywhere. It would be just like requiring a restaurant to use a thermometer when making soup. Besides, you occasionally get people, or children, who just want "warm" which would be around 120 F.

Find out the facts for yourself, and let your supervisors know what you found, but for now, if your supervisors require you to, then you have to put up with it.
I've never heard of it being a requirement, but as a manager, I have all my staff use a thermometer whether they're able to steam by touch & sound or not. Your supervisor may be in a position where he's totally confident in YOU to steam milk well, but not in another employee, and so wants to keep it even across the board.
The only requirement in my area is that all thermometers on the bar must be accurate. Our inspector checks them on every visit. SO... the bigger concern for you may be that they are out of whack.

You should recommend that yours be calibrated and offer to do it. Quite simple for most - bring some water to a full rolling boil, immerse the probe, use a wrench (or the caffeine wrench, or pliers, etc) to hold the thermometer by the hex on the back of the "head", and turn the head until the needle is at 212 (or the red triangle on many models). There is some variation in the boiling point with altitude, so check your local boiling temperature if you are somewhere like Denver and set it to that temp instead.
Yeah, calibrating them isn't a problem, however they seem to go out of whack about every four hours or so and it's honestly a huge pain to re-calibrate them that often. Do you guys have to calibrate yours as often? if not, what brand are you buying? maybe there are higher quality thermometers out there.

Brady said:
The only requirement in my area is that all thermometers on the bar must be accurate. Our inspector checks them on every visit. SO... the bigger concern for you may be that they are out of whack.

You should recommend that yours be calibrated and offer to do it. Quite simple for most - bring some water to a full rolling boil, immerse the probe, use a wrench (or the caffeine wrench, or pliers, etc) to hold the thermometer by the hex on the back of the "head", and turn the head until the needle is at 212 (or the red triangle on many models). There is some variation in the boiling point with altitude, so check your local boiling temperature if you are somewhere like Denver and set it to that temp instead.
Thanks for the info everyone!
Replace them!

I believe we use Taylors. I checked them today and they were right on... not having moved in several months. Will check the brand and post back.
I insist my staff use a thermometer not for health or safety reasons (because I think nthere is no issue there), but because as an owner I want consistancy in the milk temperature between all my barista. In the past (in New Zealand not Indonesia) often we did steam by touch... however I really think that even a couple of degrees difference in temperature can effect the sweetness of the milk. We calibrate the thermometers we use (we have about 8 per shop) at the beginning of each shift. Yes it takes a few minutes, but it is now habit and no one complains too much anymore.
It is not required to use a thermometer but it is required by health code in most places for milk to be over 140 degrees when heating. Usually the only way to make sure this is happening is to use a thermometer. Most of the health inspectors that I have dealt with are really upset when they don't see a thermometer being used because you cannot "feel" when milk hits exactly 140.
I train staff with a thermometer just like we train tamping pressure with a bathroom scale. Neither thermometer or bathroom scale are used during production. Do spot check barista's steamed milk temp periodically. It's been a long time since anyone's wasn't between 140-150f and usually within a couple degrees + or - or 145f target. As a working owner/barista I of course also spot check myself. Only checked one of mine today, it was 145.6f. (Checked using ultra-fast response Thermapen, same unit as used by many Health Inspectors) Checked one of my newer hires not yet barista's this afternoon. (I haven't certified her to work alone yet). Her steamed soy was excellent texture and 146.3f, by touch and count. (While I go strictly by touch, it's too hot for her at this point and counts from the point it gets too hot, different count for different size steaming. Much like HX flush counting to hit shot temp, though not something we need to do at my shop with PID Lineas)

Thermometers are training wells. Take 'em off when no longer needed. Gee, ever see a barista use a thermometer steaming their milk in competition!

That said, if your supervisor requires it, so be it. If you don't want to do it, open your own shop.
Also true in Washington State, 140f is the minimum"hold" temperature for hot foods. Heat and immediately serve has no minimum heat and serve temp requirement for milk. FWIW, my cafe has a Class 3 license, which means licensed for fullest complexity food preparation.

Ricky Sutton said:
While there is a possibility that this varies state by state, in Oregon this is not true. It's an urban legend. As i said before, the only time that is the case is if you are doing hot holding. It's perfectly legal/safe to serve a drink at 120 degrees if you want to. Consider kids hot chocolate or gibraltars.

As a barista, I prefer to steam without a thermo, because I believe I have a pretty good feel of what milk that's just past 140 F feels like. Also, our thermometer goes out-of-whack every couple of days, so I find it a pain when I hear the milk reach its boiling point while the gauge reads barely 140. However, it's a rule at work that we must steam with the thermo, for consistency's sake, and, of course, for the customers that think that their drink tastes best at 180.2 F (I've heard of one particularly nasty lady who made the biggest fuss over her mocha, thinking it was too cool; even brought out her own thermo, read ~180 as well as our own. OCD much? I digress...)

So yeah... for the "technical" consistency's sake, use 'em (but keep 'em calibrated often!) Otherwise, I say to go by the feel if you (and your staff/supervisors) feel completely confident of steaming by touch.
Myself, I always use one. I have for 40 years and don't find it to be a bother. If it goes out of adjustment, very often, just pitch it out and buy a new one.

Yes, many people can judge temperature without one...as can I...but I still like to make sure.

More to the point: it shows that I care. Often, I work with people who don't use one, and don't care. Their temperatures are all over the map.

The bottom line for me, is if what you're doing is working, stick to it.

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