1. How can I tell if the pork in the store is wholesome and of superior quality?
Look for cuts with a relatively small amount of fat on the outside and with protein that is firm and a grayish-pink color. Organic pork cuts come from pigs that were never given antibiotics or growth hormones. For optimal flavor and tenderness, fresh pork should have a small amount of marbling, meaning white streaks of fat within the muscle. Be sure packages are cool to the touch and haven’t been punctured.
2. Is pork graded?
Yes, though not in the same way beef is. USDA grades for pork Include only two classifications: acceptable grade and utility grade. Acceptable quality pork is the only fresh pork sold in supermarkets. It should have a high proportion of lean meat to fat and bone. Pork graded as utility is mainly used in further processed products such as sausage and is not available in supermarkets.
3. Why is pork classified as a red meat?
The amount of the protein myoglobin present determines the color of meat. Pork is classified as a “red” meat because its muscle contains more myoglobin than the muscles of chicken or fish. When fresh pork is cooked, it becomes lighter in color, but it is still a red meat. All types of livestock are classified as red meat.
4. What shelf-life information is included on the packaging of fresh pork?
Fresh pork may carry a “sell by” or “use by” date determined by the processor. These dates refer to the longevity of food quality, not safety. Food quality refers to characteristics such as taste, texture, and nutritional value.
5. How should I handle and store fresh pork after I’ve purchased it?
To prevent warming, select pork just before checking out. Be sure the package is placed in a disposable plastic bag to contain any leakage which could cross-contaminate produce or other foods. Take the pork home immediately and refrigerate it at 40°F or lower, or freeze it at 0°F or lower.
6. If I buy fresh pork that isn’t pre-wrapped, can I still refrigerate it in the store wrapping?
You can refrigerate it in the paper supplied by the supermarket if it is tightly wrapped and taped up. If the pork is loosely wrapped, it should be re-wrapped. Because paper is somewhat permeable, it’s best to re-wrap the pork in plastic. Aluminum foil may leave a metallic taste. Place the pork in a shallow pan--not on a plate--and place it on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator to ensure drippings don’t contaminate other products.
7. How long after the “sell by” or “use by” date is it advisable to eat fresh pork?
Pork should be consumed within 3 to 5 days or frozen, regardless of any “sell by” or “use by” date specified by the processor. Frozen whole-muscle pork will keep for an indefinite period but is best if consumed within 9 to12 months. Packaged ground pork will keep in the refrigerator for 1to 2 days and in the freezer for up to 3 months.
8. How can I tell if fresh pork has gone bad?
It will appear slimy and also have an “off” odor. It also may be moldy. Discard spoiled or moldy pork immediately.
9. Can I refrigerate pre-wrapped fresh pork as it is?
Yes. In fact, it is recommended. In addition, every time you handle the meat, it becomes contaminated by air, hands, and contact surfaces.”
10. How should fresh pork be thawed?
Fresh pork may be thawed in one of three ways: in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Never defrost fresh pork at room temperature. Surface areas will thaw at a quicker rate than interior areas, leaving them vulnerable to bacterial growth once they reach a temperature of 40°F/4.4°C.
Refrigerator: Once fresh pork defrosts, it can remain in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days, assuming it was frozen immediately upon purchase. A small roast requires 3 to 5 hours per pound to defrost, a large one 4 to 7 hours per pound. A 1-inch-thick chop requires 12 to 14 hours. Package thickness determines the amount of time required to defrost ground pork. If you decide not to use the pork, you can safely refreeze it within 3 to 5 days if it has remained refrigerated.
Cold water: Do not remove packaging when defrosting pork in cold water. Be sure the package is airtight, or put it into a leak-proof bag. Fully submerge the pork and change the water every 30 minutes so that it remains cold.
Microwave: Cook the pork immediately after defrosting, as some areas may become warm and begin cooking during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food isn’t recommended because any bacteria present may still be active.
Never refreeze pork that has thawed to a temperature greater than 40°F/4.4°C. Freezing will inactivate but not kill any bacteria that may have accumulated as a result of completely thawing the pork. If pork has been thawed and warmed to room temperature, it should be cooked immediately.
You can refreeze raw pork (or any other meat) that has been thawed in the refrigerator and has never reached room temperature. However, there may be some quality loss because of fluid that drips out when the product is again defrosted. (When water in food freezes, it forms crystals that puncture cell walls and allows them to leak.)
11. Can I freeze leftover cooked pork?
Yes. Wrap the pork in heavy-duty polyethylene film or heavy-duty plastic bags. Note that cooked pork won’t keep as well as raw pork because cooked pork contains less moisture.
As a result, it is more prone to freezer burn--a form of drying that occurs when the pork encounters air. One strategy is to store the pork with a gravy, broth, or sauce that will fill space otherwise occupied by air. Even then, the pork should be consumed within 3 months. Reheat the pork to an internal temperature of 160°F or higher.
12. How should fresh pork be handled prior to cooking it?
Always wash your hands thoroughly with warn, soapy water before and after handling raw pork. Likewise, wash counters, cutting boards, and utensils in warm, soapy water. Thoroughly wash the plate or pan used to hold the raw pork before using it again.
13. Is pork safe to eat if its center is pink?
Yes, if it has been cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F/71°C. Cooked pork may remain pink even when it has reached a safe internal temperature. The pink color may be due to the cooking method or the addition of marinades and other ingredients.
14. How long can pork sit out at room temperature once it has been cooked?
Pork should be refrigerated within two hours of cooking. Bacteria grow quickly at room temperature.
All-natural pork is available at select Healthy Options stores.
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