When working with pork it is essential that the meat is handled and stored properly to ensure safety. You cannot see the harmful bacteria on the meat so you must handle it as if it is present. Trichinella spiralis (trichina) is a parasite that is found on pork, which can cause a foodborne disease called trichinosis. Follow the guidelines below to ensure safety against foodborne illnesses when handling pork.
Cleanliness: A clean working environment is essential in the prevention of contamination when working with pork. Be sure to wash hands thoroughly before and after handling raw pork. The work area, cutting boards, and utensils must be thoroughly cleaned with hot soapy water after being exposed to raw pork and should not be used for other foods until properly cleaned. This will prevent cross contamination of bacteria from the pork to other foods.
When working with other foods at the same time as preparing and cooking pork, be sure to use different utensils for each food. Do not use the same cutting board for cooked meat as was used for the raw meat, unless it has been properly washed and dried before using. When taste testing food, do not use the same utensil that was used for preparation and be sure that a clean spoon or fork is used for each taste to eliminate the spread of germs.
Handling: Raw pork should be purchased just before checking out at the store so it is exposed to unsafe temperatures for as short a time as possible. It should be placed in a plastic bag to prevent any leakage from contaminating any other foods. After purchasing it should be taken home and refrigerated as soon as possible.
When cooking and serving pork, the meat must be handled properly to prevent contamination. Use a different platter and cooking utensils for cooked meat than what was used for the raw meat, unless they have been properly cleaned and dried after exposure to the raw pork. Be sure that raw pork does not come in contact with foods that have already been cooked or foods that do not require cooking before being consumed, such as raw vegetables and fruit.
With pork being approximately 30% leaner than it was a few decades ago, it is important not to overcook it if the desired result is to produce a cut of meat that is tender and juicy. In the past it was thought that pork had to be cooked until well done to eliminate the risk of trichinosis. Improved production and processing conditions have mostly eliminated the risk of trichinosis but some risk does remain. We still have to be concerned that the meat is handled and cooked properly to eliminate all risks.
Trichinella spiralis, a parasite that causes trichinosis, is killed when the meat reaches a temperature of 137°F. To ensure that we are safe from trichinosis, it is recommended that most cuts be cooked to approximately 145°F to 155°F, which is medium done and should leave the meat juicy and flavorful. For well done meat, cook to 165°F. Fattier cuts can be cooked to a higher temperature and still be delicious because their additional fat bastes the meat to moisten it as it cooks. Smaller cuts can be cooked to a lower temperature to prevent them from drying out too quickly, but should be cooked to at least 145°F. Pork cooked to these temperatures may still be slightly pink inside, but safe to eat as long as it has reached the proper degrees.
When cooking pork, it is suggested that the meat be removed from the heat source when it reaches a temperature that is 5°F to 10°F lower than the desired doneness temperature and then allow the meat to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving or carving. In this time the meat continues to cook and will reach the proper temperature without the meat becoming overcooked.
|Internal Temperatures for Proper Doneness|
|Roasts - Bone in or boneless
||145° - 155°F|
|Whole Leg or Half Leg
||145° - 155°F|
|Smoked Whole or Half Ham
|Smoked and Fully Cooked Ham
||130° - 140°F|
|Chops and Steaks - 1 inch or thicker
Note: If the proper temperature is not reached the meat should be returned to the heat source for further cooking.
Pork should be stored so that it is kept out of the temperature zone in which bacteria, that causes foodborne illness, grows quickly. The danger temperature zone is a range between 40°F and 140°F. Raw pork can be stored in a refrigerator several days, depending on the type of cut. If it is not to be used within the recommended time, it should be frozen to prevent it from perishing. Leftover cooked pork should be wrapped tightly and refrigerated as soon as possible. Do not leave any pork at room temperature for more than two hours. If cooked pork is not going to be used within four days of cooking, it should be frozen.
Raw or cooked meat can be stored safely in a refrigerator at 40°F or lower for several days. The amount of time that it can be refrigerated will depend on the type of cut, the freshness of the meat when purchased, the temperatures it is exposed to in transporting from the store to home refrigeration, and the type of packaging used.
Pork should be stored tightly wrapped to prevent the meat from drying out when exposed to air. Whenever possible, leave the raw pork wrapped in its original package to minimize handling of the meat. If it is necessary to rewrap, be sure to wrap tightly in plastic wrap, foil or a leak proof bag or place in an airtight container. The package should be placed on a dish with sides to prevent any meat juices from dripping on other foods. The meat should be stored in the coldest section of the refrigerator.
Roasts, chops and steaks can be refrigerated at 40°F or less for approximately three to four days and will remain safe to eat while retaining the quality of the meat. Ground pork and fresh sausage should be refrigerated for no more than two days. Properly refrigerated semi-dry sausage can generally be stored for two to three weeks and dry sausage up to six weeks.
When serving hot pork, it should be kept at a temperature of 140°F or higher and then refrigerated as soon as possible after serving. Do not allow the meat to remain at room temperature for more than two hours and on days when the air temperature is over 85°F, reduce this time to an hour or less. Cool leftovers as soon as possible and store for up to four days in a refrigerator at 40°F or less. If leftovers are not going to be used within four days, they can be frozen and stored for up to three months. Be sure to reheat leftovers to 165°F to ensure that the threat of bacteria growth is eliminated.
- Check the temperature of your refrigerator with an appliance thermometer on a regular basis to verify that it is maintaining the proper temperature.
- Store raw meats on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to eliminate the chance of meat juices dripping down on other foods and contaminating them.
- Chill leftovers quickly by dividing them into shallow dishes before refrigerating. This will shorten the time that the pork is in the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F.
- If you are not sure whether the pork has been refrigerated for the maximum suggested storage time and you are questioning if it is safe to eat, do not taste test it . . . be safe and THROW IT AWAY!
Raw pork should be stored in the refrigerator at 40°F or lower and should be used within three to five days of the "sell by" date on the package or it should be frozen. Freezing should be avoided if possible because it will cause the pork to be less tender and juicy but, if it will not be used within the three to five day refrigerator storage time, it should be frozen to prevent it from perishing. Freezing meat has little affect on its nutritional value.
When freezing, the pork should be frozen while it is as fresh as possible to maintain the best quality. If it is going to be used within two weeks of when it is first frozen, it can be left in the original package, but if not, remove it from the original package and rewrap tightly, using moisture proof heavyweight plastic wrap, foil, freezer bags, or freezer paper.
(Suggested times for maximum quality)
|Bacon and Sausage
||One to Two Months|
|Roasts, Chops and Steaks
Note: If storing longer than the storage times shown above, double wrapping is suggested to help keep in moisture.
To maintain maximum quality, bacon and sausage should be used within one to two months, ground pork within three months, and roasts, chops, and steak within six months. If storing longer, double wrapping is suggested to help keep in moisture. Be sure to wrap tightly against the entire surface of the meat to prevent ice crystals from forming in areas that are loosely wrapped. Ice crystals form in these areas because moisture has been drawn out from the meat, causing the pork to become tough in areas forming crystals. This condition is known as "freezer burn."
Meat with Freezer Burn
The freezer burn does not cause a safety problem but it will discolor the meat in this area and leave it leathery looking. If the freezer burn is left on the meat when cooked, it will be bland tasting and have a very tough texture in the affected areas. Freezer burn areas should be trimmed off before cooking the cut of meat.
Mark the wrapped package with contents and the date so you can be certain of how long it has been stored in the freezer. Pork can be kept frozen longer than the recommended times and still be safe to eat, but the quality of the meat will begin to deteriorate. If the proper freezer temperature was maintained and the product was wrapped properly, it will help to maintain its quality longer.
The meat should be frozen as quickly as possible. The quicker it freezes the better it will be when thawed. To speed up the freezing process, place the package on the floor or against the wall of the freezer since these are the coldest parts. It is always best to freeze and store frozen food in a freezer unit rather than a refrigerator freezer. The freezer units will maintain a temperature of 0°F or below, which will allow food to be stored for longer periods of time. A refrigerator freezer will generally only maintain a temperature of 10°F to 25°F and is opened more often, adding to the fluctuating temperature. If meat is stored in a refrigerator freezer, it should be used sooner than if stored in a freezer unit.
When freezing a large quantity of pork at one time, be sure you have adequate freezer space so that proper temperatures are maintained when freezing. You should have one cubic foot of freezer space for every two pounds of meat. If the proper space is not available, the temperature of the freezer will drop and not allow proper freezing. If you do not have adequate space, it may be best to let your butcher freeze the meat properly and then transfer it to your freezer unit for storage. If transferring frozen meat, make sure the meat is not exposed to warm temperatures, allowing it to thaw in any way. Take frozen meat home immediately and put into the freezer as soon as possible.
Freeze cooked pork by removing the meat from the bones as soon as possible after cooking and wrapping tightly using a freezer proof wrap, bag or container. Remove as much air as possible, seal tightly and then freeze at 0°F or below. Store for up to three months.
- Use moisture proof wrap or bags when freezing meat. Wax paper is not moisture proof and should not be used for wrapping pork because it will not hold the moisture in the meat.
- Be sure all packages are marked with the name of the cut and the date it was frozen.
- A double layer of wax paper can be used between chops and steaks when freezing to make them easier to separate when thawing.
- Freeze fresh pork as soon as possible to maintain the best quality.
- Store frozen meat in a freezer unit to obtain maximum storage time.
- Do not freeze canned meat. The liquid in the can may expand and cause the seal on the can to break open. Generally these items are processed to be stored in the refrigerator or are processed as shelf stable convenience items.