USDA Rethinks Meat Temperature Guidelines for Food Safety

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Cooking meat to the proper temperature can decrease the amount of bacteria present and make the food safer to consume. While beef and other red meats have long been served “pink in the middle”, The Other White Meat (pork) has been recommended to be cooked more like chicken at a higher temperature. This week, the US Department of Agriculture realigned pork cooking temperatures with those of beef, veal and lamb and recommends a slightly lower cooking temperature is adequate for food safety.

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Previously, pork was recommended to be cooked until it reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Tuesday, the agency said that 145 degrees F was sufficient as long as the meat sits briefly before it is eaten. The USDA says the new guidelines reflect the standards it uses for cooked meat products in federally inspected meat plants.

Meat temperature should be measured with a tip-sensitive, instant-read digital food thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat. After reaching the target temperature, the meat should then rest for three minutes before being carved or served. This rest time is key, because for three minutes after the meat is removed from a heat source, its temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which helps to destroy harmful bacteria.

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Trichinosis is the most common food-borne illness contracted through the consumption of undercooked pork products. Experts say that this zoonotic disease has almost disappeared in the US because so many pigs are now raised indoors.

The change does not apply to ground meats, including ground pork or beef, because pathogens can be mixed throughout the food during the grinding process. These meats should be heated to at least 160 degrees F.

The cooking temperature for poultry, whether whole or ground, remains at 165 degrees F because Salmonella, a common pathogen found in poultry, is the most heat-resistant pathogen of concern.

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"With a single temperature for all whole cuts of meat and uniform 3 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 the USDA's news release. "Now there will only be 3 numbers to remember: 145 for whole meats, 160 for ground meats and 165 for all poultry."

For optimal food safety when cooking pork, the USDA also recommends the following:
• Keep it clean. This refers to surfaces on which the meat is cooked, and your hands.
• Take steps to avoid cross contamination by separating the cuts.
• Cook to the proper temperatures.
• Chill after it is properly cooked and ensure prompt refrigeration.

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