After decades of hard to remember minimum internal cooking temperatures for meat and poultry, the USDA recently simplified their recommendations. The change should make it easier for consumers to follow the guidelines and may make eating pork more enjoyable.
Previous USDA recommendations suggested consumers cook pork to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, a level that many consumers felt left the meat tough and sucked dry of its flavorful juices. Food scientists have now declared it perfectly fine to cook pork—and all other whole cuts meat—to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees.
3-minute rest time
One important additional step accompanies this change in cooking temperature: the meat needs a 3-minute rest time before carving or consuming. The new 3-minute rest time rule allows the meat’s temperature to remain constant or continue to rise and kill any harmful pathogens.
3 temperature levels
This change in cooking temperature for pork means that consumers only have to remember three different temperature levels:
- 145 degrees for whole cuts of beef (like steak), pork, veal and lamb
- 160 degrees for all ground meats
- 165 degrees for all types of poultry, whether whole or ground.
Use a food thermometer
When cooking, there is only one way to tell if meat and poultry has reached a safe internal temperature: use a food thermometer. One in four hamburgers turns brown before it reaches a safe temperature, so color is not a reliable indication of doneness. Pork that has reached the minimum internal temperature may still be pink, but has been deemed safe to eat by the USDA. Some consumers may choose to cook pork to higher temperatures due to personal preferences.
Habits are hard to change. Those who don’t use a food thermometer in cooking may consider it bothersome and unnecessary, but it is important to keep certain high-risk groups healthy. Older adults, those with certain chronic diseases, young children, and pregnant women are particularly at risk for food borne illness.
If those considered high risk will be consuming your cooking, be considerate of their health and use a food thermometer. This handy tool can also help avoid overcooking meats, which is considerate of others’ taste buds.
To use a food thermometer for thin meats, like hamburgers and steaks, insert the thermometer probe horizontally from the side of the burger or steak into the center. For whole cuts of meat, insert the probe into the thickest part of the meat. Be careful not to touch bone; this can cause an inaccurate temperature reading.