Chow Line: Lower temp OK for pork, but let it rest (for 12/25/11)

December 16, 2011

My family is coming over on New Year’s Day, and we always serve pork roast for luck. My daughter suggested that I cook the roast only until it gets to 145 degrees (internal temperature) so it stays moist, but all my life I’ve cooked pork to 160 degrees, and that’s what my cookbooks say. Is my daughter’s suggestion safe?

Actually, the U.S. Department of Agriculture changed its recommendation for cooking pork earlier this year -- but your daughter failed to mention one very important point: Cooking pork to 145 degrees F is safe as long as you let it rest for a full three minutes after removing it from the oven and before cutting into it and serving it. The rest period is essential. It allows the roast to stay hot, or even continue heating, to be certain to eliminate any pork-related pathogens that can cause foodborne illness, including Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus and Listeria monocytogenes, as well as Trichinella spiralis, which causes trichinosis.

Trichinosis in particular is associated with undercooked pork, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that over the last decade or two, the number of cases has greatly declined. In fact, between 1997 and 2001, only 12 cases per year were reported. Trichinosis is now more associated with eating raw or undercooked wild game than it is with pork. 

Your daughter is correct, though, that the lower cooking temperature will help keep your roast from drying out. In fact, the rest period assists with that, as well. Letting meat rest for a few minutes between cooking and slicing and serving is often recommended as a way to help keep meat juices in the meat instead of running onto the cutting board or your plate.

It might look odd to you, but pork, like other meats, might remain pink even after it reaches a safe temperature. As with other meats, don’t rely on what it looks like to determine if it’s done or not. It’s always recommended to check doneness with a meat thermometer.

Still, the USDA does offer estimates of cooking times for different cuts of pork on the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s “Fresh Pork from Farm to Table” Web page, at http://1.usa.gov/porkinfo.

Finally, the new, lower cooking temperature does not apply to ground pork. That still must be cooked thoroughly to 160 degrees to be safe.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or filipic.3@cfaes.osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Julie Kennel, nutrition program manager for Ohio State University Extension and director of the Dietetic Internship Program in the Department of Human Nutrition in the College of Education and Human Ecology.

Please note: Chow Line is taking a couple weeks off for the holidays. You can expect the next column on Friday, Jan. 6.

Author(s): 
Martha Filipic
Source(s): 
Julie Kennel