May 25, 2011 -- Just in time for the start of grilling season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has updated guidelines for safely preparing pork. The USDA recommends that pork be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
The federal agency says it is lowering the recommended safe cooking temperature for whole cuts of pork from 160 degrees to 145 degrees and adding a 3-minute rest time.
That temperature should be measured with a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, then allowing the meat to sit for three minutes before carving or eating.
The safe temperature for beef, veal, and lamb remains at 145 degrees, but the USDA says it is adding a 3-minute rest time to its preparation recommendations.
New Guideline Does Not Apply to Ground Meats
The USDA says the change does not apply to ground meats, including beef, veal, lamb, and pork, which should be cooked to 160 degrees. The safe cooking temperature for all poultry products, including chicken and turkey, remains 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
"With a single temperature for all whole cuts of meat and uniform 3-minute stand time, we believe it will be much easier for consumers to remember and result in safer food preparation," USDA Under Secretary Elisabeth Hagen says in a news release. "Now there will only be three numbers to remember -- 145 for whole meats, 160 for ground meats, and 165 for all poultry."
Making Sure of Microbiological Safety
It says cooking raw pork, steaks, roasts, and chops to 145 degrees with the addition of a 3-minute rest time will result in a product that is microbiologically safe and at its best quality.
Rest time is the amount of time the product remains at the final temperature after it has been taken off a grill, oven, or other heat source, the USDA says. During that 3-minute period, the temperature of meat remains constant or continues to rise, destroying pathogens.
Let It Rest
The USDA says its Food Safety and Inspection Service determined that it's just as safe to cook cuts of pork to 145 degrees as it is to cook them to 160 degrees, as long as there is a 3-minute rest time.
The new guidelines clarify long-held perceptions about cooking pork. People had viewed the color pink in pork as a sign that it's undercooked. But now the USDA says if raw pork is cooked to 145 degrees and allowed to rest for three minutes, it is safe to eat, even if a little pink.
The agency says the only reliable indicator of safe meat is temperature obtained with a food thermometer, and that its appearance is not a reliable indicator of temperature. It says any cooked, uncured red meats, including pork, can be pink.
The National Pork Board says reducing the standard by 15 degrees "may yield a finished product that is pinker" that most people who cook are used to.
But Dianne Bettin, chair of the Checkoff's Domestic Marketing Committee and a pork producer in Truman, Minn., says research has shown that Americans tend to overcook common cuts of pork, "resulting in a less than optimal eating experience."
New Guidelines May Mean Better-Tasting Pork
Cooking pork under the new guidelines will help people enjoy pork at its most flavorful, juicy, and safe temperature, Bettin says in a National Pork Board news release.
The National Pork Board and the USDA both recommend a digital cooking thermometer to make sure the final temperature is correct.
The USDA also offers this advice for people cooking pork:
- Keep it clean. This refers to surfaces on which the meat is cooked, and your hands.
- Take steps to avoid cross contamination by separating the cuts.
- Cook to the proper temperatures.
- Chill after it is properly cooked and ensure prompt refrigeration.
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