Cooking meat to the correct temperature is vital when it comes to food safety.
It’s essential for both preventing parasitic infections and reducing your risk of foodborne illness.
Pork is especially prone to infection, and changing practices within the food industry over the last decade have led to new guidelines regarding pork preparation.
Here’s how to safely cook pork to prevent negative side effects and symptoms.
Trichinella spiralis is a type of parasitic roundworm found in many omnivorous and carnivorous animal species around the world — including pigs ().
Animals can become infected after eating other animals or scraps of meat that contain the parasite.
The worms grow in the intestine of the host, then produce larvae that pass through the bloodstream and become trapped in the muscle ().
Eating undercooked pork infected with Trichinella spiralis can lead to trichinosis, an infection that causes symptoms like diarrhea, stomach cramps, muscle pain, and fever.
Fortunately, improvements in hygiene, laws related to waste disposal, and preventive measures designed to protect against infection have led to significant reductions in the prevalence of trichinosis within the last 50 years (3).
In fact, from 2008 to 2012, only about 15 cases were reported each year to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — substantially less than in the past ().
For example, a 1943 report by the National Institute of Health estimated that the parasite infected around 16% of the U.S. population (3).
Despite the decline in the incidence of trichinosis, proper cooking is still crucial to reducing the risk of infection.
Cooking pork can also prevent foodborne illness caused by strains of bacteria. These include Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria, and Yersinia enterocolitica, which can cause fever, chills, and digestive distress ().
Eating pork infected with Trichinella spiralis can cause trichinosis. While improvements within the food industry have reduced the risk of infection, thoroughly cooking pork is still critical for preventing foodborne illness.
Using a digital meat thermometer is the easiest and most effective way to measure temperature and ensure that pork is cooked throughout.
Start by inserting the thermometer into the center of the meat at the thickest part, which is typically the coolest and the last to cook.
Make sure the thermometer is not touching a bone to get the most accurate reading.
Additionally, be sure to clean your thermometer with soapy water before and after each use.
Once the pork has reached the desired temperature, remove it from the heat source and let the meat rest for at least three minutes before carving or eating it.
Apart from ground pork, these steps are recommended for all cuts to help kill off any bacteria and promote proper food safety ().
Proper cooking is one of the most effective ways to prevent trichinosis, an infection caused by the parasite Trichinella spiralis.
In the past, it was recommended to cook pork to an internal temperature of at least 160°F (71°C) — regardless of the cut — to prevent infection.
However, in 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated their recommendations to reflect improvements in food safety practices and a decrease in the prevalence of trichinosis.
It’s now recommended to cook pork steaks, chops, and roasts to at least 145°F (63°C) — which allows the meat to maintain its moisture and flavor without drying it out (6).
Organ meats, ground pork, and mixtures made using ground pork should still be cooked to at least 160°F (71°C).
The USDA also suggests allowing meat to sit for at least three minutes prior to consumption for all types of pork except ground pork.
Here are the recommended cooking temperatures for a few of the most common pork cuts (6):
|Cut||Minimum internal temperature|
|Pork steaks, chops, and roasts||145°F (63°C)|
|Ground pork||160°F (71°C)|
|Organ meats||160°F (71°C)|
Cooking pork thoroughly can eliminate your risk of infection. The meat should be cooked to temperatures of 145–160°F (63–71°C) and allowed to rest for at least three minutes before eating.
In addition to cooking pork thoroughly, there are plenty of other steps you can take to practice proper food safety when handling this type of meat.
For starters, both raw and cooked pork can be stored in the refrigerator for 3–4 days at temperatures below 40°F (4°C).
Be sure to wrap pork tightly and minimize exposure to air to prevent the meat from drying out.
Raw meats should also be stored on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to avoid transferring bacteria to other foods.
When cooking pork, be sure to prepare it in a sanitary environment and use separate utensils and cutting boards if preparing other foods at the same time.
Avoid allowing cooked foods or foods that don’t require cooking to come into contact with raw meat to prevent cross-contamination.
Finally, make sure you store leftovers in the refrigerator promptly and don’t leave pork at room temperature for more than two hours to protect against the growth of bacteria.
In addition to cooking pork thoroughly, proper handling and storage are important for maintaining food safety.
Although the guidelines for cooking pork have changed within the last few years, practicing food safety remains essential for preventing foodborne illness.
Following the recommended guidelines for cooking pork can minimize your risk of trichinosis, an infection caused by eating undercooked pork contaminated with the Trichinella spiralis parasite.
The USDA recommends that pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145–160°F (63–71°C) — depending on the cut — and allowed to rest for at least three minutes before eating.
Proper handling and storage are also key to reducing your risk of bacterial infection.