Pork lovers can rejoice over new cooking regulations

WASHINGTON—Pork tenderloins, chops and roasts will now be juicy and safe to eat, thanks to new U.S. Department of Agriculture cooking guidelines.

The USDA has dropped the safe internal cooking temperature for pork from 160 F to 145 F on a food thermometer, followed by three minutes of rest.

"This is big news for the pork industry," said John Parker, executive director of the Virginia Pork Industry Board. "We’ve been petitioning them for years to change the cooking temperature for pork. Now that they have, we can offer a more tender, flavorful product."

Consumer research conducted by the National Pork Board found that Americans consistently overcook pork, resulting in a "less-than-optimal eating experience," said Pamela Johnson, director of consumer communications for the national board. "The new guidelines will help consumers enjoy pork at its most flavorful, juicy and safe temperature."

The board said the new USDA guidelines reflect advances in both food safety and nutritional content of pork in recent years. Most cuts of pork are 16 percent leaner than they were 20 years ago, and their saturated fat content has dropped 27 percent.

Parker said people have been taught to believe that pork has to be overcooked in order for it to be safe.

"In my own family, I remember my mom saying that pork had to be cooked until it’s done, with absolutely no pink in it," Parker said.

In the 1900s pork was blamed for spreading the foodborne disease trichinosis, and the belief was that the meat needed to be cooked to as much as 180 F to kill it.

"I can’t even remember the last time a case of trichinosis was reported," Parker said.

Because of modern hog feeding practices, trichinosis is no longer a concern. The parasite is virtually nonexistent in pork, and if it were present, it would be killed at 137 F, Parker said.

He added that restaurant patrons and home cooks enjoy eating meat cooked medium-rare to medium, and now they can enjoy pork that way and not be worried about health issues.

The change in cooking temperatures for pork is "good for the pork industry, and whatever’s good for the whole industry is good for Virginia pork producers," Parker said.

The change does not apply to ground meats, including ground beef, lamb, pork and veal, which all still should be cooked to 160 F. The safe cooking temperature for all poultry products remains 165 F.

Contact Parker at 804-786-7092.

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