About Fresh Pork
This page is about how to safely prepare fresh pork, for ground pork, please refer to the main cooking food safely page. All pork sold in the U.S. have gone through USDA inspections for prevention of foodborne illnesses and meet federally mandated regulations for freshness and signs of disease. For signs of freshness, look for flesh that is firm and is pinkish gray in color. The USDA recommends cooking pork until internal temperatures reach 145°F and then let the pork rest for 3 minutes before consumption. It is important to note that fresh pork is not required to have sell-by dates posted on retail packaging by the government so consumers should be wary of signs that meat is not fresh.
The USDA lowered the recommended minimum internal temperature of pork recently due to increased regulations from farm to processing to sales of pork which has reduced foodborne illness risks greatly. The main risk found in pork is the trichinella roundworm but with scientific advancement, it was found that trichinella can be killed when frozen or with low-level heat. Thus, the USDA set forth a new minimum temperature of 145°F versus the previous 160°F.
How to Thaw Pork
Thawing with a Microwave
Microwaves are the fastest way to defrost frozen pork but it may lead to uneven cooking due to temperatures being inconsistent in the meat. The best rule of thumb when microwaving frozen pork for defrosting is to check the meat every 30 seconds to a minute to avoid overcooking some parts of the meat. Keep your microwave temperature on medium or low if it does not have a thawing setting. Once the pork has been thawed, do not refreeze if you are using this method of thawing as some parts of the pork may have already cooked. The combination of raw and heated meats can lead to foodborne pathogens spreading.
Thawing in Cold Water
The method of using cold water to thaw pork takes several hours depending on the size of the cut. Store your pork in an airtight bag and submerge all the way in cold water. Refill the water occasionally for a quicker thaw.
Thawing in a Refrigerator
The safest way to thaw frozen pork is in a refrigerator. Place your frozen meat inside the refrigerator the night before you need to use it and it can be safely stored between 3 to 5 days before use. It is also safe to refreeze your pork from the refrigerator if needed. Although this method of defrosting or thawing takes the longest amount of time, it is the the least likely to lead to any foodborne illness complications.
Safe Cooking Temperature and Times for Pork
Fresh cuts of pork should be cooked until internal temperatures reach 145°F. For other types of pork such as ground pork or internal organs, the recommended internal temperature is 160°F. Due to these meats being mixed together from multiple animals, there is a higher risk of pathogens being spread so it is suggested that higher temperatures are used to kill off harmful bacteria. Fresh pork should never be partially cooked and refrigerated again. If pork has begun cooking, you must finish cooking it completely before resting to cool for refrigerating. Below is a chart that can help guide you in determining the right temperature and times for cooking pork.
|½ – 1½ lbs
|1½ – 2 hours
|1½ – 2 hours
|1½ – 2 hours
|2 to 2½ hours
|1 inch cubes
|½ inch thick
It is important to disqualify a common misconception about cooking pork. Some pinkness in pork does not automatically mean it is unsafe to consume after cooking. The only way of telling whether fresh pork is safe to eat is with a food thermometer and a reading of internal temperatures of 145°F. Some cuts of pork may maintain signs of pinkness after being thoroughly cooked due to the way it was prepared or certain ingredients causing a chemical reaction.
How to Store Pork
Although it isn’t required by the USDA to put sell-by dates on packages of fresh pork, retailers typically choose to put their own recommended use-by dates for the convenience of their customers. Pork can be safely stored in your refrigerator between 1 to 5 days depending on the cut. Please refer to the chart below for a more specific recommendation.
|Raw roasts, ribs, steaks
|Raw liver, internal organs
|Cooked stews, casseroles
|Cooked deli meals
|Do not thaw
|3-4 days after opening
|2-3 months after opening
For more information on how to safely prepare high risk foods, please visit our Safe Food Handling page. If you would like to learn about the risks of improperly prepared food, please check out our Foodborne Illness page.