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 food poisoning and foodborne illness.

Pork is especially prone to infection, and changing practices within the food industry over the last decade have led to new guidelines on 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 (1).

Animals can acquire this parasite after eating other animals or scraps of meat that contain it.

The worms grow in the intestine of the host and then produce larvae that pass through the bloodstream and become trapped in the muscle (2).

Eating undercooked pork that is carrying Trichinella spiralis can lead to trichinosis, an infection that causes food poisoning symptoms like diarrhea, stomach cramps, muscle pain, and fever (3).

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 (4).

In fact, only 13 cases of trichinellosis were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2015 — substantially fewer than in the past (5).

For comparison, it’s estimated that around 400 cases of trichinellosis were reported to the CDC each year in the 1940s (2).

Despite the decline in the incidence of trichinosis, proper cooking is still crucial to reduce the risk of infection.

Cooking pork can also prevent foodborne illness caused by strains of bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria, and Yersinia enterocolitica. These bacteria can cause fever, chills, and digestive distress (6).

summary

Eating pork that carries Trichinella spiralis can cause trichinosis. While improvements in 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 pork is fully cooked throughout.

Start by inserting the thermometer into the center of the meat at the thickest part, which is typically the coolest part and the last to cook.

To get the most accurate reading, make sure the thermometer is not touching a bone.

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 3 minutes before carving or eating it.

These steps are recommended for all cuts of pork — except ground pork — to help kill off any bacteria and promote proper food safety (7).

Proper cooking is one of the most effective ways to prevent trichinosis.

In the past, cooking all cuts of pork to an internal temperature of at least 160°F (71°C) was recommended to prevent infection.

However, in 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated its recommendations to reflect improvements in food safety practices and a decrease in the prevalence of trichinosis.

The USDA now recommends cooking pork chops, steaks, ham, and roasts to at least 145°F (63°C), which allows the meat to maintain its moisture and flavor without drying it out (7).

Organ meats, ground pork, and mixtures made using ground pork, such as sausage, should still be cooked to at least 160°F (71°C) (7).

For all types of pork except ground pork, the USDA also suggests allowing the meat to sit for at least 3 minutes before consuming it.

Here are the recommended cooking temperatures for a few of the most common pork cuts (7):

CutMinimum internal temperature
pork chops
pork tenderloin
pork loin
medium-rare: 145–150°F (63–66°C)
medium: 150–155°F (66–68°C)
medium-well: 155–160°F (68–71°C)
well: 160°F (71°C)
pork ribs145°F (63°C)
pork roast145°F (63°C)
pork leg145°F (63°C)
pork shoulder145°F (63°C)
ham145°F (63°C)
ground pork160°F (71°C)
organ meats160°F (71°C)

Though most cuts should be cooked to at least 145°F (63°C) to ensure that they are safe, cooking certain cuts of pork to a higher temperature may also improve their taste and texture.

For instance, it’s often recommended to cook cuts that contain a higher amount of connective tissue, such as pork shoulder and ribs, to a temperature of 180–195°F (82–91°C).

This can help break down the collagen, resulting in a more tender and flavorful final product.

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Illustration by Sophia Smith

Meat resting time is the amount of time meat remains at the final temperature once it has been removed from the heat source, such as the oven, grill, or stove (8).

The general recommendation is to let pork rest for at least 3 minutes after cooking before cutting or eating it (8).

During this time, the temperature remains stable or continues to increase, which can help kill off any harmful bacteria (8).

Letting meat rest after cooking also helps enhance its flavor by redistributing the juices back into the fibers of the meat.

summary

Cooking pork thoroughly can eliminate the risk of infection. The meat should be cooked to temperatures of 145–160°F (63–71°C) and allowed to rest for at least 3 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 cooked and raw pork can be stored in the refrigerator for 3–4 days at temperatures below 40°F (4°C) (7).

Be sure to wrap pork tightly and minimize exposure to air to prevent the meat from drying out.

Raw meat should 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 (9).

To prevent cross contamination, avoid allowing cooked foods or foods that don’t require cooking to come into contact with raw meat (9).

Finally, to prevent the growth of bacteria, make sure you store leftovers in the refrigerator promptly and don’t leave pork at room temperature for more than 2 hours (7).

summary

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 recommendations 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 cooking pork to an internal temperature of 145–160°F (63–71°C) — depending on the cut — and letting it rest for at least 3 minutes before eating.

Proper handling and storage are also key to reducing your risk of bacterial infection.

Just one thing

Practicing proper food safety is important when preparing other types of meat besides pork as well. Check out this article for a comprehensive guide to selecting, storing, and preparing other types of meat, fish, and poultry safely.