Now U.S. cooks can enjoy their juicy, tender and safe pork products prepared at a lower cooking temperature. Just-released cooking guidelines from USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service has confirmed National Pork Checkoff-funded research that shows pork can be consumed safely when cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by a three-minute rest time.

The new recommended temperature is a significant 15 degrees less than the previous recommendation, and it typically will yield a finished product that is pinker in color than most home cooks are accustomed to.

"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," says Dianne Bettin, a Minnesota pork producer and chair of the National Pork Board's eomestic 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 USDA and NPB recommend using a digital cooking thermometer to ensure an accurate final temperature.

The new recommendation evolved from a 2007 pork checkoff-funded project conducted by Ohio State University researchers to measure consumer eating preferences. As part of that project 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 an NPB project with Exponent, an engineering and scientific consulting firm, to conduct a risk assessment to evaluate any food-safety implications of cooking temperatures within a range of 145 to 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. NPB research conducted by Texas A&M University 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, FSIS agreed that the cooking temperature for pork could be lowered.

USDA guidelines for pork now mirror doneness advice for other meats.

"It's great news that home cooks can now feel confident to enjoy medium-rare pork, like they do with other meats," says 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.

In addition to the new recommendation to cook pork to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by a three-minute rest time, USDA food preparation guidelines advise the following:

  • Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often
  • Separate: Don't cross-contaminate
  • Cook: To proper cooking temperatures
  • Chill: Refrigerate promptly

Additional information about cooking pork, including recipes, is available at PorkBeInspired.com, or Facebook.com/PorkBeInspired.

Source: National Pork Board