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Pork is in the pink with the USDA, but don't get carried away

May 25, 2011|By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Pork can be safe when cooked at 145 degrees, says the USDA -- the agency lowered the safe minimum temperature from 160 degrees.
Pork can be safe when cooked at 145 degrees, says the USDA -- the agency lowered… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

No need to overcook pork, the USDAadvised earlier this week. The agency lowered its recommended cooking temperature to 145 degrees from 160 degrees, to a round of applause from chefs. But don’t start thinking this lower-cooking-temperature advice holds up across the board.

The safe minimum temperature varies by food. Here’s a quick primer, from the appropriately titled USDA brochure “Is It Done Yet,” on how high internal temperatures should be to kill bacteria.

-Steak and roasts: 145 degrees.

-Ground beef: 160 degrees.

-Fish: 145 degrees

-Egg dishes (which can pose the risk of salmonella):  160 degrees

-Chicken breasts and whole poultry: 165 degrees.

Granted, the brochure is a bit out of date. It still recommends 160 as the minimum for pork. The official announcement from the USDA makes clear that that seems excessive, but it does call for a “rest time” after the meat reaches that temperature.

Keep in mind these are standards for the internal temperature, not necessarily the setting on the oven or grill. The USDA states in its brochure:

“The only safe way to know if meat, poultry, and egg dishes are 'done' is to use a food thermometer.”

Granted, this can seem confusing. Even cold cuts should be hot sometimes, it seems. The CDCsays older adults, pregnant women or those with compromised immune systems shouldn’t eat lunch meats or hot dogs unless cooked internally to 165 degrees or until “steaming hot” just before serving. The concern is listeria, a bacteria that makes 1,600 people ill and kills 260 each year in the U.S.

But even if the meat is cooked all the way through, food poisoning (think salmonella and E. coli) is still possible from surfaces the meat has touched. Make sure to wash your hands, cutting boards, dishes — anything the raw meat contacted — with warm and soapy water.

And take comfort in the fact that, amid all the cleansing and hyper-vigilance about germs, at least you don’t have to overcook your pork.

RELATED: Times Food editor Russ Parsons asks: Are the new meat temperature recommendations really on target?

RELATED: Contaminated meat: Almost half of meat in stores may have drug-resistance bacteria.

healthkey@tribune.com

RELATED: More news from HealthKey

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