For all the home cooks out there, it’s important to know the temperature recommendation for pork to ensure good food safety. You may be wondering, is it safe to eat pork at 145 degrees Fahrenheit or do you need to cook it more?
Temperature guidelines for pork
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), raw pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit with the addition of a three-minute rest time.
When you let the pork rest, the internal temperature increases slightly to finish the cooking process.
Ground meats like ground pork, on the other hand, require a higher temperature. You should cook ground meat to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Due to the processing of this kind of product, it could be introduced to more bacteria and therefore requires a higher temperature. Whole cuts of pork don’t need as high of a temperature and can be enjoyed “medium rare”.
According to the National Pork Board, use the following temperature guidelines to reach your desired doneness.
- Medium-rare: 145-150° F
- Medium: 150-155° F
- Medium-well: 155-160° F
- Well done: 160° F
The drier you like your pork, the more well-done you should cook it. If you prefer a moister, more tender pork, stick with medium or medium-rare or choose a fattier cut.
Common cuts of pork
There are several different cuts of pork you can get at the grocery store. The most popular cuts include pork chops, pork tenderloin, spareribs and pork shoulder.
Pork loin is a category that encompasses a few different pork cuts including pork chops and pork tenderloin. The loin refers to the area along the spine of the pig down to halfway down the belly area.
Three ounces of pork loin contains about 214 calories, 23 grams of protein and 13 grams of fat when consuming the visible fat.
Pork shoulder refers to the area of the pig around the shoulder of the front legs. A pork shoulder roast is typically a bit fattier than a pork loin cut and a bit lower in protein
Three ounces of pork shoulder with visible fat eaten contains about 223 calories, 20 grams of protein and 16 grams of fat.
Pork ribs are another commonly consumed part of the pig. Pork spare rib is taken from the, you guessed it, ribs of the pig. While the ribs of the pig aren’t consumed, the meat around it is and it’s quite delicious.
Three ounces of pork spare rib contains about 338 calories, 25 grams of protein and 26 grams of fat. Overall it’s a rather fatty cut of pork.
Pork belly is another popular cut of pork, especially in Asian cuisine. It’s taken from the belly portion of the pig and is very high in fat. This is also where bacon comes from.
Three ounces of pork belly contains about 344 calories, 23 grams of protein and 27 grams of fat. Bacon has a similar nutrient profile, with slightly more fat and calories.
Ham is another popular pork cut, especially around the holiday time or in school lunches. It’s known as a leaner cut and comes from the back legs of the pig.
Three ounces of ham contains about 95 calories, 14 grams of protein and 3 grams of fat. It makes for a great lean source of protein, more similar to poultry.
Ground pork is another way you can purchase pork. It’s a mix of various cuts of pork, typically pork shoulder and pork butt. It’s quite flavorful and comes in different fat percentages.
Three ounces of ground pork contains about 256 calories, 23 grams of protein and 18 grams of fat. You may be able to find leaner ground pork that is lower in fat and calories.
How to use a meat thermometer
The best way to use a food thermometer is measuring the internal temperature at the thickest part of the pork when you think the pork looks done (possibly a few minutes before).
Try not to insert the thermometer all the way to the bottom of the pan, close to the heat source, since this may increase the number above the real temperature of the pork. Insert the thermometer so it’s in the middle of the pork.
I recommend using a digital thermometer to check the doneness instead of going by metrics such as how much “pink color” is on the inside. Using a thermometer is more accurate and there is less room for error.
Basic food safety tips
The United States Department of Agriculture recommends four steps to ensure safer food preparation. These steps include clean, separate, cook and chill.
Firstly, make sure you are thoroughly cleaning your hands and surfaces before preparing your food. You do not need to wash your pork. In fact, it’s best not to since the bacteria from the pork can contaminate your sink.
If you are touching the raw pork with your hands, be sure to wash your hands before touching any other surfaces or ingredients. Also be sure to thoroughly clean your dishes after cooking.
Next, try your best to avoid cross contamination. Use a separate cutting board for your raw pork and store away from ready-to-eat foods.
If you are preparing a dish alongside the pork that is intended to be consumed raw, like a salad, make sure the raw pork never touches the raw ingredients or any surfaces the raw ingredients are being prepped on or served in.
Next, as discussed above, make sure your pork is being cooked to a safe internal temperature. This would be 145 degrees Fahrenheit for a cut of pork and 160 degrees Fahrenheit for ground pork.
When cooking the pork, use a meat thermometer to check the temperature at the center of the meat. The cooking method doesn’t matter as long as the pork gets thoroughly cooked.
Make sure you are moving your cooked pork to the refrigerator as soon as possible after cooking. Avoid leaving your cooked pork out at room temperature for more than two hours.
If it does end up staying out for that long, I would recommend throwing it out. There is a chance you could get very ill if you consume pork that has been left out.
Common foodborne illnesses from pork
Pork can potentially harbor harmful bacteria that can lead to foodborne illness. This is why it’s important to use good food safety practices and cook your pork thoroughly.
Most commonly, pork can cause trichinosis, a parasitic infection. But pork can also contain dangerous bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus and Listeria monocytogenes.
Make sure you cook your pork cut to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit and your ground pork to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise you could be at risk of getting food poisoning.
While you might not get sick every time you consume undercooked pork, there is also a small chance a harmful bacteria will be present. If you do get unlucky, you could get seriously ill, it’s best to stick on the safe side.