USDA Lowers Safe Cooking Temperatures for Pork


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  13 comments   :  18,829 Views

My culinary training is rooted in the classics of French cooking. The recipes, mother sauces, and techniques have been the same for generations--even centuries, in some cases. But plenty of things change in the kitchen all the time: ingredients, tools, and recently, even safe cooking temperatures.
In the classroom, at restaurants, and in public settings, chefs will follow the rules of food safety, but sometimes that can be at odds with taste, which takes center stage. That's why you see those warnings at the bottom of menus: "WARNING: Consuming raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, shellfish and eggs may increase your risk of food borne illness, especially if you have a medical condition."
Over-easy eggs, rare steak and oysters on the half shell sure are tasty, but there is a chance that they can make you ill, so we chefs have to warn you of that. For years, chefs (including myself) have recommended serving pork that was still a little pink for the best taste. (And the U.S. FDA, which regulates restaurants, has allowed a lower cooking temperature for pork and other meats.) However, the USDA, the government agency that sets food safety guidelines, recommended cooking the pork until it was 160 degrees Fahrenheit inside, which meant a well-done (and bone-dry) piece of pork.
The good news is that the USDA recently changed the rules: Pork lowered the recommended temperature by 15 degrees! Pork should now be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, then allowed to rest for three minutes before serving. This means your pork might still be a bit pink in the middle but safe to eat.
Allowing the meat to rest is important for two reasons: The meat's temperature will either stay the same or rise during that time, killing any micro-organisms that might make you ill, and it will allow the meat's juices to redistribute. (You should allow all meat to rest for a few minutes before serving to prevent all those delicious juices from leaking out when you make your first cut!)
This rule applies only to all whole cuts of meat (both beef and pork): chops, tenderloins, steaks, and roasts. It does not apply to ground meats, which should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. (Chicken and turkey, whether ground or whole, should always be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Never serve pink chicken!)
Why the change?  Pork today is leaner than ever--up to 30% leaner according to the USDA--due to changes in breeding and feeding.  In the past, pork needed to be cooked until well done because of the fear of parasites, particularly trichinosis. That illness is not an issue these days, but we still need to practice safe handling practices any time we handle raw meats.

Helpful Dos and Don'ts
  • Do wash your hands and disinfect any surface that touched the meat! 
  • Don't reuse marinades or sauces that were used on raw meats.
  • Don't use the same plate for raw and cooked meats.
Find more facts about pork here.
Read Tanya's blog for more food safety tips!
Pork Recipes:
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Will you continue to cook your pork until it's well done, or will you serve it a bit pink?

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  • 13
    TRICHINOSIS that is why I WILL NEVER undercook my pork I do not care who it is that syas otherwise. - 6/30/2011   9:43:54 PM
  • JUDY_B
    I like pink pork. I've been using the new guidelines for at least three years and haven't gotten sick once. Do you want to try some of my purple berries? - 6/26/2011   6:21:54 AM
  • 11
    I was taught this a few years back when I took a cooking class (from one of the premier cooking schools in the US). The chef gave the same reason that is given above - leaner meat. Of course, you still need to be cautious. - 6/22/2011   5:05:32 PM
  • 10
    Pork always seems dry when you get it at the restaurant which makes me nervous about cooking it at home, especially when it's a little pink. Good to know! - 6/22/2011   3:15:23 PM
  • 9
    I'm so glad to read this. Pork is always so dry unless you smother it in gravy and who needs that?!? These new guidlines are great and will enable me to introduce pork once again to the family with hopes of everyone enjoying it. I love pork and a good quality loin chop is much leaner than any beef steak. We eat a lot of chicken, ground turkey instead of beef, seafood, and once in a while we treat ourselves to a steak. Now I have something else to serve. Great news! - 6/22/2011   12:54:18 PM
    I've occasionally smoked cooked Pork as low as 145 for several years now. Sometimes as high as 190 internal as for example when I smoke a Boston Butt for pulled pork. The fat melts at the high temp and tenderizes the meat which makes my mouth water just thinkin' about it and that makes me hungry and I'm outta here!!!! - 6/22/2011   12:27:53 PM
  • 7
    I certainly cook my pork until it is done, but not so much, that is is hard and tough. Mine is just maybe a little, very little on the pink side, definitely not over cooked. - 6/22/2011   11:59:18 AM
  • 6
    Old mindsets die hard so I will continue to cook it until I do not see the pink. - 6/22/2011   11:38:19 AM
  • 5
    THANK YOU for posting this - I also learned my more refined culinary skills in a French-technique based school, and I've been fascinated to watch culinary trends change. Cooking pork to MR or Med has been one of the best changes to come around! I would caution everyone, however, to be sure and buy your pork (and all your animal protein!) from a reputable local farmer to be secure in the knowledge that it was raised in a manner that is healthy for you and sustainable for the environment. - 6/22/2011   6:39:00 AM
  • 4
    Interesting! I love pork and it would be nice to not have to cook it so dry. I had heard slightly pink was OK but it is nice to have a temperature to double check. It was also interesting to see that pork is 30% leaner now! - 6/22/2011   1:02:09 AM
  • ALLIB22
    I still dont think I will be eating pork products anytime soon. - 6/22/2011   12:56:20 AM
    As someone that has had food posioning from pork twice it's a fear thing for me more than anything. I understand and trust the new guidelines, however I still have to see it practically burnt to a crisp to ingest it. Perhaps one day I'll learn to live on the edge again! :) - 6/21/2011   6:56:44 PM
  • JULIA1154
    I'm happy to read this. I do like my pork a little bit on the pink side as it always seems to have more moisture and flavor at that point, so I'll definitely adopt the new guidelines. - 6/21/2011   6:08:34 PM

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