Whether you're having a picnic or simply haven't packed up your leftovers from dinner, unrefrigerated pork has a definite expiration point. Know your limits and keep an eye on the clock to keep your pork at its best, and to avoid unpleasant consequences -- whether that means having to throw out hard-earned leftovers or, worse, suffering the unpleasant effects of foodborne illness.
Raw pork should never be left unrefrigerated for any length of time; keep it in the refrigerator right up until you're ready to cook it to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. Additionally, for these reasons, never leave frozen raw pork on the counter to thaw. Cooked pork may be left at room temperature for up to two hours, or one hour on days when the ambient temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
For quality and safety purposes, keep raw pork in its original packaging in the refrigerator for up to two days past the sell-by date printed on the package, or in the freezer for up to eight months. To prevent freezer burn, overwrap the original packaging in aluminum foil or plastic wrap, or place it in a resealable freezer bag. Cooked pork will last up to seven days in the refrigerator; keep it in a covered, airtight container during this time for optimum quality.
Signs of Spoilage
Despite these guidelines, if you suspect your pork has gone bad, discard it immediately. Signs of spoiled pork include color changes -- usually from pink to brown or grey -- and/or a sour smell. Never taste the pork to determine whether it is still good, as consuming spoiled pork may cause illness. Keep in mind that even if the pork looks and smells fine, bacteria may still be present and following proper storage recommendations is essential.
To eliminate harmful bacteria, cook ground pork to a minimum internal temperature of 160 F; cook other cuts of pork, such as chops and roasts, to an internal temperature of 145 F and allow a minimum three-minute resting period before slicing and eating. Thoroughly cooked pork may be slightly pink inside, but as long as the internal temperature reaches 145 F, it is safe to eat.
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Kelly McCoy has been writing for lifestyle blogs and online publications since 2010, specializing in recipes and techniques for the home cook. She holds a B.A. from Boston University and J.D. from the University of Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.