On May 24, USDA made some important changes in their recommended cooking temperatures for meats. Here’s what you need to know:
- Cooking Whole Cuts of Pork: USDA has lowered the recommended safe cooking temperature for whole cuts of pork from 160 ºF to 145 ºF with the addition of a three-minute rest time. Cook pork, roasts, and chops to 145 ºF as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source, with a three-minute rest time before carving or consuming. This will result in a product that is both safe and at its best quality—juicy and tender.
- Cooking Whole Cuts of Other Meats: For beef, veal, and lamb cuts, the safe temperature remains unchanged at 145 ºF, but the department has added a three-minute rest time as part of its cooking recommendations.
What Cooking Temperatures Didn’t Change?
- Ground Meats: This change does not apply to ground meats, including beef, veal, lamb, and pork, which should be cooked to 160 ºF and do not require a rest time.
- Poultry: The safe cooking temperature for all poultry products, including ground chicken and turkey, stays the same at 165 ºF.
What Is Rest Time?
“Rest time” is the amount of time the product remains at the final temperature, after it has been removed from a grill, oven or other heat source. During the three minutes after meat is removed the heat source, its temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which destroys harmful bacteria.
Why Did the Recommendations Change?
- It’s just as safe to cook cuts of pork to 145 º F with a three-minute rest time as it is to cook them to 160 ºF, the previously recommended temperature, with no rest time. The new cooking recommendations reflect the same standards that the agency uses for cooked meat products produced in federally inspected meat establishments, which rely on the rest time of three minutes to achieve a safe product.
- Having a single time and temperature combination for all meat will help consumers remember the temperature at which they can be sure the meat is safe to eat.
How Do You Use a Food Thermometer?
Place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food. It should not touch bone, fat, or gristle. Start checking the temperature toward the end of cooking, but before you expect it to be done. Be sure to clean your food thermometer with hot soapy water before and after each use.
To see where to place a food thermometer in different cuts of meat, see Thermometer Placement and Temperatures. For more information on cooking temperatures for all types of food, see the Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart.
If you have questions about cooking meat, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov (English and Spanish) or m.AskKaren.gov (Mobile Ask Karen) on your smartphone.
Taking the handling instructions on food labels seriously can go a long way toward keeping you and your family healthy. By contrast, ignoring the labels can lead to very serious illnesses. Here are some recent examples.
Unrefrigerated Soup Tied to Botulism Cases
Recently, a consumer in the South bought a plastic container of soup from a salad bar in a supermarket. It was sold cold and clearly labeled:
HEAT & SERVE / KEEP REFRIGERATED
The soup sat unrefrigerated for a day or two before it was heated. The consumer tasted it and threw it out because it was “sour.” Despite having eaten very little of the soup, the consumer ended up in the hospital with botulism.
A similar case occurred in the Midwest last February. The consumer bought soup in a pack of two-plastic containers. It also was sold cold, and the labels also said to keep it refrigerated. One container was consumed immediately, with no ill effects. But, the consumer left the other container unrefrigerated for a week. Again, the consumer heated it, tasted it, and threw it out. And, again, that consumer also was hospitalized with botulism.
Botulism is as serious as food poisoning gets. It can result in respiratory failure and death. Even when patients survive, they may be hospitalized and on a ventilator for months, and they may suffer permanent neurological damage. So when a label says KEEP REFRIGERATED, keep the product refrigerated!
Follow the Label to Defeat Bacteria
While botulism is one of the most menacing foodborne illnesses, others are potentially quite serious as well, and product labels can help you avoid them. For example, if you pick up a package of hamburger in the grocery store, you’ll find a label with “Safe Handling Instructions.” It looks something like this:
“Cook thoroughly” means that you need to cook to a safe minimum cooking temperature – 160 F for hamburger. Don’t trust the color of the meat – use a food thermometer to be sure.
What if you don’t follow the label and the food is undercooked? Then you and your family are at risk of food poisoning from bacteria like E. coli. The worst type of E. coli can lead to kidney failure and even death. Children age four and under are particularly susceptible.
Microwave Labels Protect You, Too
Always read and follow the cooking instructions on frozen microwave dinners to kill any dangerous bacteria that may be in the food.
- Cook it thoroughly: Many companies include cooking times for two wattage levels of microwave ovens. Or, they may explain that the cooking time on the package is for 1100-watt ovens, so you must adjust the time for lower wattage ovens. To be safe, use a food thermometer to check the dinner, especially if your microwave oven is less than 1100 watts.
- Don’t skip the standing time: The label may also recommend letting the food stand for a minute or two after cooking. This “standing time” is important to complete the cooking process throughout the food.
Since 2006, it has been much easier for people allergic to certain foods to avoid packaged products that contain them. This is because a federal law requires that the labels of most packaged foods marketed in the U.S. disclose in simple-to-understand terms when they are made with a major food allergen.
Eight foods, and ingredients containing their proteins, are defined as “major food allergens.” These foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies:
- Fish, such as bass, flounder, or cod
- Crustacean shellfish, such as crab, lobster, or shrimp
- Tree nuts, such as almonds, pecans, or walnuts
The law allows manufacturers a choice in how they identify the specific “food source names,” such as “milk,” “cod,” “shrimp,” or “walnuts,” of the major food allergens on the label. They must be declared in one of the following:
- The ingredient list, such as “casein (milk)” or “nonfat dry milk.”
- A separate “Contains” statement, such as “Contains milk,” placed immediately after or next to the ingredient list.
So first look for the “Contains” statement. If your allergen is listed, put the product back on the shelf. If there is no “Contains” statement, it’s very important to read the entire ingredient list to see if your allergen is present. If you see its name even once, it’s back to the shelf for that food too.
“Contains” and “May Contain” Have Different Meanings
If a “Contains” statement appears on a food label, it must include the food source names of all major food allergens used as ingredients. For example, if “whey,” “egg yolks,” and a “natural flavor” that contained peanut proteins are listed as ingredients, the “Contains” statement must identify the words “milk,” “egg,” and “peanuts.”
Some manufacturers voluntarily include a “may contain” statement on their labels when there is a chance that a food allergen could be present. A manufacturer might use the same equipment to make different products. Even after cleaning this equipment, a small amount of an allergen (such as peanuts) that was used to make one product (such as cookies) may become part of another product (such as crackers). In this case, the cracker label might state “may contain peanuts.”
Be aware that the “may contain” statement is voluntary. You still need to read the ingredient list to see if the product contains your allergen.
When In Doubt, Leave It Out
Manufacturers can change their products’ ingredients at any time, so it’s a good idea to check the ingredient list every time you buy the product—even if you have eaten it before and didn’t have an allergic reaction.
If you’re unsure about whether a food contains any ingredient to which you are sensitive, don’t buy the product, or check with the manufacturer first to ask what it contains. We all want convenience, but it’s not worth playing Russian roulette with your life or that of someone under your care.
For more information, check out Food Allergies: What You Need to Know.