Buying, Handling, Storing

Buying

Before You Shop

Before purchasing pork, take a moment to consider your needs. Ask yourself a couple of quick questions:

  • How many people are you planning to feed? The average serving size for pork is 3 ounces of cooked meat. Start with 4 ounces of boneless, raw pork to yield 3 ounces of cooked pork. A 3-ounce serving is about the size of a deck of cards.
  • What is the eating occasion? If time is limited for a weeknight meal, select smaller quick-cooking cuts such as pork chops, cutlets, cubes or strips. If you’re entertaining for a holiday meal and have several other dishes to prepare, consider choosing larger, slow-cooking cuts such as roasts that cook several hours and require little attention.

Reading the Meat Label

Here’s a quick overview of what’s on the label:

  1. Type of meat — Listed first on every label, this indicates whether the cut is pork, beef, lamb or veal.
  2. Primal/wholesale cut — This specifies which section of the animal the meat comes from. It is a good indicator of the relative tenderness of the cut and can help the shopper decide which method of cookery to use when preparing the cut. This part of the label may read shoulder, loin, leg, etc.
  3. Retail cut — This gives the shopper the specific name of the smaller cut taken from the primal cut. This part of the label may read blade roast, rib chop, sirloin roast, etc.
  4. Cost — To get the most for your money, calculate the cost per serving. Some boneless cuts may seem more expensive, but actually are a better buy because you are not paying for the bone. Cost per serving = Cost per pound / # of servings per pound.

Selecting Quality Pork

  1. Pork that is a pinkish-red color will provide a better eating experience. Avoid choosing meat that is pale in color and has liquid in the package.
  2. Look for pork that has marbling, or small flecks of fat. Marbling is what adds flavor.
  3. Avoid choosing any meat that has dark colored bone.
  4. The fat of the pork should be white with no dark spots.

Handling

Is it safe to eat leftover food that was left out on the counter to cool at dinnertime, then forgotten until morning?

No. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 and 140° F, some doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. Some types will produce toxins that are not destroyed by cooking.

Pathogenic bacteria do not generally affect the taste, smell, or appearance of a food. In other words, one cannot tell that a food has been mishandled or is dangerous to eat. If a food has been left in the “Danger Zone” – between 40 and 140° F – for more than two hours, discard it, even though it may look and smell good. Never taste a food to see if it is spoiled. It is always best to use the rule of “When in doubt, throw it out.”

I have leftovers from a big roast, how long can I keep them? 
Leftovers should be placed in the refrigerator within 1 to 2 hours of serving.  Store cooked leftovers in the coldest part of the refrigerator for 4-5 days. Well-wrapped leftovers can be kept in the freezer for up to three months.

Food Safety

What about trichinosis? 
Because of modern feeding practices, trichinosis is a no longer a concern. Although trichina is virtually nonexistent in pork, if it were present, it would be killed at 137° F. That’s well below the recommended end cooking temperature for pork, which is 145° F, followed by a 3-minute rest time.

Thawing

What is the best way to thaw frozen pork? 
The best way to defrost pork is in the refrigerator in its wrapping. Follow these guidelines for defrosting pork in the refrigerator:

  • Small roast will take 3-5 hours per pound
  • Large roast will take 4-7 hours per pound
  • One-inch thick chop will take 12-14 hours
  • Ground pork needs to be estimated by package thickness

Can I use my microwave to defrost pork? 
Follow the microwave manufacture’s guidelines for defrosting meat. Cook meat immediately after microwave thawing.

My roast isn’t thawed completely, but I need to get my meal started. Can I still cook it?
It is safe to cook frozen or partially-frozen pork in the oven, on the stove or grill without defrosting it first; the cooking time may be about 50 percent longer. Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. It is best if frozen pork roasts are cooked at an oven temperature of 325° F. Do not cook frozen pork in a slow cooker.

Storing

Refrigerator Storage

How long can I keep my fresh pork in the refrigerator? 
Sealed, pre-packed fresh pork cuts can be kept in the refrigerator 2 to 4 days; sealed ground pork will keep in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. If you do plan on keeping the raw, fresh pork longer than 2 to 3 days before cooking it, store it well-wrapped in the freezer.

How long can I store ham or other smoked products in the refrigerator? 
Whole smoked ham and whole ham slices can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or the use by date on the label. Smoked sausages, hot dogs, bacon and other luncheon meats can be kept for up to seven days.

Freezer Storage

How do I properly wrap my fresh pork to keep it in the freezer? 
Follow these steps to help keep your pork fresh in the freezer

  • Use one of these freezer wrap materials: specially-coated freezer paper (place the waxed side against the meat); heavy-duty aluminum foil; heavy-duty polyethylene film; heavy-duty plastic bags.
  • Re-wrap pork in convenient portions: leave roasts whole, place chops in meal-size packages, shape ground pork into patties. Put a double layer of waxed paper between chops and patties.
  • Cover sharp bones with extra paper so the bones do not pierce the wrapping.
  • Wrap the meat tightly, pressing as much air out of the package as possible.
  • Label with the name of the pork cut and date.
  • Freeze at 0° F or lower.

What length of time can I keep pork in the freezer? 
Generally, fresh cuts of pork, like roasts, chops and tenderloin can be kept well-wrapped in the freezer up to six months. Well-wrapped ground pork can be kept for about three months in the freezer.

What about freezing ham?
The National Pork Board does not encourage freezing cooked ham, since it affects the quality and texture of the meat. However, leftover ham for use in soups or casseroles can be cut up into slices or cubes and stored in the freezer for 2 to 3 months.

Can pork be refrozen if it has thawed?
According to the USDA, once food is thawed in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze it without cooking, although there may be a loss of quality due to the moisture lost through defrosting. After cooking raw foods which were previously frozen, it is safe to freeze the cooked food.