Here's a hint: a little pink won't hurt you.

By Elizabeth Laseter
Updated: December 11, 2018
Photo: Caitlin Bensel

Whether you’re pan-searing pork tenderloin or grilling pork chops, you want succulent, juicy meat that’s a touch pink in the center. This translates to a safe internal temperature of 145°F.

This hasn't always been the case. Our grandmothers cooked pork chops until they were gray—and at one point, most home cooks wouldn’t have dared to eat pork that was anything but well-done. As it turns out, pork used to carry a pathogen that caused trichinosis. (Key phrase: used to.) Thanks to changed breeding practices, trichinosis from pork is no longer a health concern today.

Before 2011, the previous USDA guidelines called for cooking pork to 160°F to safely kill any harmful bacteria. However, the FDA has reccomended 145°F for years. Why the difference? The USDA sets guidelines for home cooks, while the FDA sets safety practices for restaurants and food service. In order to set new guidelines, the USDA did a great deal of research—both scientific and consumer behavior—and had to be sure that consumers were ready to eat pink pork.

Photo: Greg Dupree; Styling: Ginny Branch

So, rest assured, you can safely enjoy pork today that's cooked to an interal temperature of 145°F. Use this handy cheat sheet to ensure that your pork is perfectly (and safely) cooked, no matter the cut. For thicker cuts, make sure you’re checking the internal temperature with a meat thermometer.  

Pork tenderloin, pork loin, pork chops: 145°F

For flavorful and juicy pork, cook it to 145°F and let it rest for at least 3 minutes before slicing to let the temperature rise a few degrees. It should be lightly pink in the center.

Ground pork: 160°F

The USDA recommends cooking ground pork—as well as all ground meats—to a minimum temperature of 160°F.

Photo: Alison Miksch; Food Styling: Mary Clair Britton and Kady Wohlfarth; Prop Styling: Prissy Lee

For fattier, tougher cuts like pork shoulder, pork shank, and pork ribs, the guidelines aren’t the same. These cuts of meat must be cooked at a low temperature for a long amount of time (i.e. low and slow) to become fall-apart tender. Inevitably, their internal temperatures are going to be much higher than 145°F by the time they’re ready. And that's okay—in fact, that's exactly what you want.

Want to cook perfect pork tenderloin? Try these easy recipes:

Last but not least, is there a safe cooking temperature for ham? First off, don’t assume it’s always sold pre-cooked. Always check the label—and if you aren’t sure, it’s best to cook it anyway. For raw, fresh ham, the USDA advises cooking to an internal temperature of 145°F. For pre-cooked ham, you can reheat to an internal temperature of 140°F but it’s perfectly safe to consume as is.

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