For decades the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommended cooking pork until the internal temperature reached 160 degrees F. The agency now says 145 degrees F will suffice, followed by a three-minute rest before carving. Advances in the science of food safety and leaner pork brought about this change, according to the USDA.
The website of the National Pork Board, a trade group, puts it more bluntly: “The new cooking temperature will produce pork that’s succulent and tender—not an over-cooked hockey puck.”
The trade group has working since 2007 to gather research on taste preferences and safety evaluations, and then presented it to the USDA, says Teresa Roof, a National Pork Board spokesperson. The group claims that pork is leaner due to changes in feeding and breeding practices, with the most common cuts now 16 percent less fatty on average than 20 years ago. And while the USDA just announced the lower recommended temperature, Roof says restaurants have been cooking at it for nearly a decade.
“Anytime we make a change we make sure it’s based on very strong science,” says Brian Ronholm, the USDA's deputy under secretary of food safety. “Part of taking this seriously is being very deliberative.” The revised recommendation is for pork cuts such as loin, chops, and roasts, and a digital thermometer should be used to ensure an accurate final temperature. Ground pork is typically made of trimmings and should be cooked to 160 degrees F.
The USDA’s recommendation for pork is now the same as for other whole cuts of meat including beef, veal and lamb. "With a single temperature for all whole cuts of meat and uniform three minute stand time, we believe it will be much easier for consumers to remember and result in safer food preparation,” said Under Secretary Elisabeth Hagen in a press release. "Now there will only be three numbers to remember: 145 for whole meats, 160 for ground meats and 165 for all poultry."
For years it was the fear of trichinosis that led to public awareness campaigns and higher cooking temperatures. Trichinosis, an infection caused by eating raw or undercooked pork or wild game from animals infected with a species of worm, used to be common but is now relatively rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It may take home cooks some time to get used to the new recommendations but chefs are praising the USDA’s action. "I'm glad they have the sense to make that change," Washington D.C. chef Rob Weland told the Associated Press. "It will be good for the next generation not to be so fearful so they can enjoy pork in a way they may not have been able to in the past."