You probably grew up eating pork that was cooked well done and thoroughly gray, but—news flash!—that’s no longer necessary.
The most recent guidelines from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicate that whole-muscle cuts of pork (like pork loin, pork chop and pork roast) can be consumed safely when cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit using an instant-read thermometer and left to rest for three minutes. The meat will look significantly pinker than when cooked to 160 degrees, the previous USDA recommendation and the recommended temperature for ground pork (and other types of ground meat).
Why the wait?
The three-minute rest time is the secret weapon. Food continues to cook after it’s been removed from heat; in fact, the temperature rises 10 to 15 degrees during those three minutes. If you remove pork from the heat at 160 degrees, it’ll likely be overcooked by the time it hits the table. Cooking the meat to 145 degrees means it’ll be perfectly cooked and, most importantly, safe to eat after just a few minutes of resting.
Why the change?
Overcooking pork wasn’t as much of a problem in the past, but today the meat is much leaner, making it more likely to be tough and unappetizing when overcooked. By contrast, a target temp of 145 degrees is designed to yield juicy, tender pork. And if a restaurant server asks you how you’d like your pork chop, a good answer is "medium rare."
But is it really safe?
You might have heard that you can get the parasite trichinosis from pork. That used to be true, but the organism has been virtually eliminated at this point. The real concern with undercooking meat is salmonella bacteria or E. coli; in recent years, there have been many outbreaks of both. That’s why following the above USDA guidelines ensures that your meat will not only be delicious but safe, too.
Amy Sherman is a San Francisco-based writer, recipe developer and cookbook author who never says no to a warm doughnut. Follow her culinary escapades on Instagram at @cookingwithamy.
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