May 24, 2011

Cooking pork is cooler than ever

When you order a pork chop from a nice restaurant, they don’t ask how you want it cooked.

But that has changed as pork producers across the nation are welcoming the news that the USDA has officially lowered the recommended cooking temperature for pork to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by a three-minute rest time before you cut it. This means pork will now be held to the same standard as the other red meats: beef, veal and lamb.

How did this come about? The new recommendation evolved from a 2007 Pork Checkoff-funded research project conducted by Ohio State University to measure consumer eating preferences. As part of that project the university researchers tested how various end-cooking temperatures affected eating preferences. But the researchers needed to know if temperatures below 160 degrees would be safe if that turned out to be consumers' preference.

That question resulted in a Checkoff-funded research project to conduct a risk assessment to evaluate any food-safety implications of cooking temperatures within a range of 145-160 degrees Fahrenheit.

The risk assessment found that cooking pork to an internal temperature of 145 degrees was equivalent to cooking pork to 160 degrees. Checkoff-funded research conducted by Texas A&M supports the fact that meat temperature continues to rise after being removed from the heat and the reality that "resting time" between cooking and eating is at least that long. Therefore, USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) agreed that the cooking temperature for pork could be lowered.

"Our consumer research has consistently shown that Americans have a tendency to overcook common cuts of pork, resulting in a less-than-optimal eating experience," said Dianne Bettin, a pork producer from Truman, Minn., and chair of the Checkoff's Domestic Marketing Committee. "The new guidelines will help consumers enjoy pork at its most flavorful, juicy - and safe - temperature."

The revised recommendation applies to pork whole-muscle cuts, such as loin, chops and roasts. Ground pork, like all ground meat, should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Regardless of cut or cooking method, both the USDA and National Pork Board recommend using a digital cooking thermometer to ensure an accurate final temperature.

"It's great news that home cooks can now feel confident to enjoy medium-rare pork, like they do with other meats," said Guy Fieri, a chef, restaurateur and host of several food-focused television programs. "Pork cooked to this temperature will be juicy and tender. The foodservice industry has been following this pork cooking standard for nearly 10 years."

The new recommendation reflects advances in both food safety and nutritional content of pork in recent years. On average, most common cuts of pork are 16 percent leaner than 20 years ago, and saturated fat has dropped 27 percent. In fact, pork tenderloin is now as lean as the leanest type of chicken - a skinless chicken breast.

Additional information about cooking pork, including recipes, is available at, or

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