USDA changes safe pork cooking temperatures

Richard Bogren, Reames, Elizabeth S.

News Release Distributed 05/25/11

Just in time for Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial kickoff to the summer grilling season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has updated its recommendation for safely cooking solid cuts of pork.

USDA has lowered the recommended safe cooking temperature for whole cuts of pork from 160 degrees to 145 degrees and added a three-minute rest time, said LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames.

“USDA recommends cooking all whole cuts of meat to 145 degrees as measured with a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, then allowing the meat to rest for three minutes before carving or consuming,” Reames said.

The safe temperature for cuts of beef, veal and lamb remains unchanged at 145 degrees, but the department has added a three-minute rest time as part of its cooking recommendations, Reames said.

“Cooking raw pork to 145 degrees with the addition of a three-minute rest time will result in a product that is both microbiologically safe and at its best quality,” she said. “This change does not apply to ground meats – including beef, veal, lamb and pork – which should be cooked to 160 degrees and do not require a rest time.”

The safe cooking temperature for all poultry products, including ground chicken and turkey, remains at 165 degrees, she added.

“Consumers now have to remember only three cooking temperatures – 145 degrees for whole meats, 160 degrees for ground meats and 165 degrees for all poultry,” Reames said.

A "rest time" is the amount of time the product remains at the final temperature after it has been removed from a grill, oven or other heat source. This time is important because during the three minutes after meat is removed from the heat source, its temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which destroys disease-producing microorganisms.

“USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has determined it is just as safe to cook cuts of pork to 145 degrees with a three-minute rest time as it is to cook them to 160 degrees with no rest time,” Reames said.

The new cooking suggestions reflect the same standards that the agency uses for cooked meat products produced in federally inspected meat establishments, which rely on the rest time of three minutes to achieve safe pathogen reduction.

"Consumers often have viewed the color pink in pork to be a sign of undercooked meat,” Reames said. “If raw pork is cooked to 145 degrees and allowed to rest for three minutes, it may still be pink but is safe to eat. The pink color can be due to the cooking method, added ingredients or other factors.”

As always, cured pork (e.g., cured ham and cured pork chops) will remain pink after cooking.

Appearance in meat is not a reliable indicator of safety or risk, Reames said. Only by using a food thermometer can consumers determine if meat has reached a sufficient temperature to destroy disease-causing microorganisms. Any cooked, uncured red meat – including pork – could be pink even when it has reached a safe internal temperature.

Rick Bogren

5/25/2011 9:38:41 PM
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