Q: What’s the right temperature for cooking pork these days? There was a display at the fair that said 145 degrees is enough. I thought it was supposed to be 165 degrees. Did they change it? How long do we need to cook pork now, if that is right?
Answer: Yes, the recommended temperature was lowered several years ago. That’s good news, because pork today is so lean that cooking it to the higher temperature usually made it tough and dry. At the lower temperature it can still be moist and tender.
There were enough studies done to convince the USDA that cooking to 145 degrees internally would be sufficient to kill all the bacteria commonly associated with pork. There are some exceptions, though. Ground pork should still be cooked to 160 degrees, the same as ground beef. That’s because the grinding spreads any bacteria through the whole package of meat. If you buy a roast or chops, the bacteria are just on the surface, not in the middle. But ground meat could have bacteria the whole way through.
The other exception is pre-cooked ham. Since it has been fully cooked already, it needs only to be reheated to 140 degrees. That will be enough to get rid of bacteria that might have landed on the surface since the cooking.
As for how long you need to cook it, that depends. What you really need is a food or a meat thermometer to tell you that. You need to cook it until the temperature in the thickest part of the piece reaches 145 degrees. Then you take it off the heat and let it sit for three more minutes to equalize the temperatures inside. Then you slice it, dice it, chop it or serve it.
Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at email@example.com.