Pork does not have to be well done

Revised cooking guidelines for meat were released by USDA. What does this mean in the kitchen or at the grill?

Most mothers and grandmothers taught their kids to cook pork until it was well done. This caused it to be dry and have unfavorable eating experiences for many consumers.

 The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recently revised their cooking guidelines for whole muscle meats, including pork. Recommended cooking guidelines for whole muscle cuts of meat is let the meat reach 145°F and then let it rest for three minutes before eating. The rest period is important because it allows for additional temperature rise and time for bacteria to be destroyed.

Previous cooking guidelines made pork dry because in recent years pork has become leaner and contains less marbling. Marbling is the fat within a muscle that contributes to juiciness and eating pleasure.

Trichanella spiralis is the culprit for the previous believed need for higher temperature requirements for cooking pork. Trichanella spiralis is a parasite that was historically found in pigs. The parasite invaded the muscle and was transferred through eating under cooked meat. It has been virtually eliminated from the US pig population. The other good news is that it is killed when cooked to 137°F. The new cooking guidelines for pork chops should allow for juicier pork that results in a more enjoyable eating experience for the consumer.

In addition to following the new cooking guidelines for steaks and chops, there are other ways to prevent foodborne illness from infecting your family. Ground meats still need to be cooked to 160°F (http://www.news.msue.msu.edu/news/article/cook_hamburger_to_160_degrees). Use of a meat thermometer is the only way to ensure you are properly cooking your meat. Insert a thermometer with a fine tip into the center of the meat, often through the side of a chop, steak, or burger. Preventing cross contamination where cooked meats and other foods come in contact with areas previously used for raw meat preparation such as countertops, cutting boards, and platters is also essential for proper food safety. Thoroughly disinfect surfaces and utensils that come in contact with raw meat with hot, soapy water. Do not let other foods, especially those that will not be cooked like fresh vegetables and fruits, come in contact with surfaces contaminated with raw meat.

  • When grilling or preparing meat, remember the following requirements:
  •  Whole muscle meats need to be cooked to 145°F followed by a 3 minute rest period.
  •  Ground meats need to be cooked to 160°F (must reach this for at least 1 second).
  • Poultry needs to be cooked to 165°F.

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