Handling Pork Safely

Improper handling of raw pork can set the stage for cross-contamination — the spread of bacteria from foods, hands, utensils and food preparation surfaces to another food. Here's how to stop it.
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At the Store

The key to safe and delicious pork is buying it fresh (or frozen-fresh), free of preservatives and additives, then getting it home quickly.

  • Buy your pork last. If your trip home takes longer than 30 minutes, bring a cooler to keep the meat cool.
  • Separate raw meat from ready-to-eat foods in your shopping cart. Consider placing raw foods inside plastic bags in your shopping cart to keep the juices contained.

When You Get Home

  • Wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap before and after handling raw pork.
  • Sanitize kitchen countertops that come into contact with raw pork. One teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach per quart of clean water will sanitize surfaces. Leave the solution on the surface for about 10 minutes to be effective.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, and utensils with soap and hot water after contact with raw pork.


  • Refrigerate or freeze your pork as soon as possible after purchasing. Prevent raw pork juices from dripping onto other foods by placing raw foods in sealed containers or sealable plastic bags.
  • Fresh, raw pork can be stored in its original wrap in the coldest part of the refrigerator according to the chart below.
  • Freeze pork immediately if you don’t plan to cook it soon after purchase.  Label each package with the date, name of cut and weight or number of servings. Practice the FIFO inventory system: first in, first out.

Home Storage of Fresh Pork






Fresh pork roast, steaks, chops or ribs

3 - 5 days

4 - 6 months

Fresh pork liver or variety meats

1 - 2 days

3 - 4 months

Home cooked pork; soups, stews or casseroles

3 - 4 days

2 - 3 months

Store-cooked convenience meals

1 - 2 days

2 - 3 months

TV dinners, frozen casseroles

Keep frozen before cooking

3 - 4 months

Canned pork products in pantry

2 - 5 years in pantry; 3 - 4 days after opening

After opening, 2 - 3 months


Defrosting Guidelines

There are three safe ways to thaw pork: in the refrigerator, in cold water (in an airtight or leak-proof bag) and in the microwave. Never thaw on the counter or at room temperature.

  • Plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. After thawing raw pork by this method, it will be safe in the refrigerator 3 to 5 days before cooking. During this time, if you decide not to use the pork, you can safely refreeze it without cooking it first.
  • If you’ve defrosted in a microwave, cook it immediately after thawing. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn't have been destroyed. Foods defrosted in the microwave or by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing because they potentially may have been held at temperatures above 40°F.
  • It’s safe to cook frozen pork in the oven, on the stove or grill without defrosting it first; the cooking time may be about 50% longer. Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. Do not cook frozen pork in a slow cooker.

Before You Cook: S-E-P-A-R-A-T-E

  • Rinse pork and pat dry with paper towels before cooking; cutting boards and knives must be washed in hot soapy water after using and hands must be washed before and after handling.
  • If possible, use one cutting board for raw pork and another for fresh fruits and vegetables. If two cutting boards aren't available, prepare fruits and vegetables first, and put them safely out of the way. Wash the cutting board thoroughly with soap and hot water. Then, prepare the raw pork. Follow by washing the cutting board again.
  • Don't reuse marinades on cooked foods unless you boil them first. Marinades used on raw meat can contain harmful bacteria.
  • Never taste uncooked marinade or sauce that was used to marinate raw meat.
  • Place cooked food on a clean plate for serving. If cooked food is placed on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat, bacteria from the raw food could contaminate the cooked food.
  • Cook pork completely to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer. Never cook pork partially and then store it to be finished later, since this promotes bacterial growth.

Related Articles:

National Pork Board

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