PUBLIC HEALTH
June 11, 2011

No More Leathery Pork Chops

New USDA guidelines mean that beef, lamb, veal and now pork have the same recommended cooking temperature.

The days of leathery pork chops are officially over. The U.S. Department of Agriculture now says that pork need only be cooked to an internal temperature of 145° Fahrenheit, (or 62.8° Celsius) to be safe to eat. The previous recommendation was 160°F. This means that beef, lamb, veal and pork now all have the same recommended cooking temperature.

Cooked to 145°F, pork may very well appear pink. That's okay. In fact, many cooks are rejoicing.

All four meats should be cooked until a meat thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat reads 145°F, and then allowed to rest for three minutes at room temperature before carving or eating. The internal temperature of the meat will remain at 145°F or rise during these three minutes.

Allowing the meat to rest also improves flavor — it allows the meat to re-absorb most of its juices. When meat is cut immediately after cooking, most of the juices run out and end up on the plate.

The 145°F temperature is only for whole meat — steaks, roasts and chops. Ground meat should still be cooked to 160°F and does not require a rest time. And all poultry, ground or whole, should be cooked to 165°F.

That's 145°F for whole meat, 160°F for ground meat and 165°F for all poultry.

The USDA emphasizes that the only way to be sure that all bacteria and disease causing organisms have been killed is by temperature reading. The appearance of the meat is only suggestive. But cooked to 145°F, pork may very well appear pink. That's okay. In fact, many cooks are rejoicing.

Even before meat thermometers became common, pork was traditionally cooked to a higher temperature than other meats. This was to kill the roundworm, Trichinella, which causes the disease trichinosis, once fairly common in the U.S. Trichinosis declined dramatically in the latter third of the 20th century, once pig farmers stopped including raw meat in hog feed. From 1997 to 2001, the average number of reported cases of trichinosis had dropped to 12 per year.

But the tradition of cooking pork to the death had become culturally ingrained and was passed from generation to generation. Even today, the idea of eating pork with a tinge of pink may still unnerve some people. But it now has the USDA's seal of approval.

The response from cooking professionals has been favorable, to say the least. Restaurants are regulated by the FDA, which has permitted the lower cooking temperature for a decade.

The USDA Recommendations were made public May 24, 2011.

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