Pork is a great addition to a balanced diet – it is a lean source of good protein, and it is a tasty supply of various minerals and vitamin, including thiamin, selenium, protein, niacin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, zinc, riboflavin and potassium. However, correct handling and storage is key to unlocking the full gamut of taste and health benefits inherent in pork.
With a little care, you can extend the lifespan of your cuts of pork, and ensure that they are as healthy, tasty and juicy as the day you bought them. The trick is to observe the three C’s for meat handling – keep it CLEAN, keep it COLD, and keep it COVERED. Pork should be pinkish-red in colour, and the fat should be white with no dark spots. Avoid buying pork with dark coloured bones.
If you are marinating the meat, be sure to store it in the refrigerator while marinating. For leftovers, let them cool down, and place them directly in the refrigerator within 2 hours. Bacteria can grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 4,5°C and 60°C, some doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. If the pork has been left out for more than 2 hours, or it doesn’t look or smell right, the rule of thumb is: “If in doubt, throw it out!” Here are a few guidelines on how to correctly store your pork:
Storing pork in the refrigerator: It is important to place the pork into the refrigerator as soon as you come home from shopping. If the pork is loose-wrapped, place it on a plate covered with plastic food wrap or in a sealed container that is lined with a paper towel. Also, always store it on the coolest part of the bottom shelf so that there is no chance of the blood or liquid dripping on and contaminating other food in the fridge. Be sure to follow the “Best Before”, “Sell By” or “Use By” dates listed on the packaging. The ideal refrigerator temperature for storing pork is between 2°C and 4°C. At these temperatures, the shelf life of the pork will be approximately as follows:
- Ground pork: 1 – 2 days
- Pork chops, tenderloin and roasts: 2 – 4 days
- Smoked ham (whole and sliced): 3 – 4 days
- Bacon: 5 – 7 days
- Sausage, hot dogs and deli meat (opened): 7 days
- Leftover cooked pork: 4 – 5 days
Storing pork in the freezer: You can store your pork for a lot longer if it is stored in the freezer. For prolonged frozen storage, you must use moisture-proof, airtight freezer bags or containers in order to prevent moisture loss and freezer burn. Freezer burn is caused by a loss of moisture on the meat surface, leading to a dry, discoloured surface, that when cooked, is tough and tasteless. Try to remove as much air as possible before sealing, and cover any sharp bones with plastic wrap or wax paper so that they don’t poke holes in the sealed bag. Also, always label and date your packages so that you know what is being stored and when it needs to be eaten by. If you are storing multiple cuts, it is advisable to place food-safe plastic between the layers to make defrosting easier. The ideal freezer temperature for storing frozen pork is anywhere between -17°C and -30°C. At these temperatures, the shelf life of the pork will be approximately as follows:
- Ground pork: 1 – 3 months
- Pork chops, tenderloin and roasts: 3 – 6 months
- Smoked ham (whole and sliced): Freezing whole cooked ham is not recommended, but sliced or diced ham can be stored for between 2 – 3 months.
- Bacon: 1 months
- Sausage, hot dogs: 1 – 2 months
- Deli meat: Freezing is not recommended
- Leftover cooked pork: 2 – 3 months
Defrosting pork: Like all meat, pork needs to be defrosted before cooking. Ideally, the best way to defrost pork is overnight in the refrigerator in its wrapping. As the meat thaws, there will be lots of liquid, so be sure to stand it in a bowl and store it at the bottom of the fridge. Never thaw pork in the sun or warm water. If urgent thawing is required, you can defrost your pork using the microwave. However, you must ensure that you cook and serve it immediately after microwave-thawing.
NOTE: Please bear in mind that the information in this article contains best-practice guidelines. Temperatures and timelines might vary slightly.