The last thing you want to do is serve ribs that smell funny or bad pork chops that make people fall sick. Here are some ways to help you determine whether your pork has gone bad, as well as some food safety tips to help prevent spoilage.
Read more: Can Old Vegetables Make You Sick?
Bad Pork Chops; Understanding Spoilage
According to the University of Maine, meats like pork, poultry and fish spoil quickly. Spoilage occurs when bacteria grows on the food. The USDA explains that there are two types of bacteria: pathogenic bacteria and spoilage bacteria.
Pathogenic bacteria are harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics lists salmonella, E. coli, campylobacter, listeria and staphylococcus (staph) among the types of pathogenic bacteria that can be found in meat.
Pathogenic bacteria thrive in temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Listeria is an exception, since it is a type of pathogenic bacteria that grows at lower temperatures. Pathogenic bacteria do not affect the smell, taste or appearance of the food in any way.
Spoilage bacteria on the other hand may not cause you to fall sick, but they can cause food to deteriorate and start smelling, looking and tasting funny. Spoilage bacteria grow at lower temperatures and can even grow in the fridge.
This basically means that pork chops or ribs that don't smell funny could still have gone bad. The USDA recommends throwing away any meat that has been exposed to temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for over two hours, since it could be contaminated.
On the other hand, eating pork chops or ribs that smell funny may not necessarily make you fall sick; however, they may have deteriorated in quality.
Consequences of Eating Bad Pork
The "when in doubt, throw it out" rule applies to all foods, according to the Michigan State University (MSU). Although it may seem like a shame to waste food, consuming infectious bacteria can cause illnesses and even death, per the University of Minnesota.
An October 2017 study published in the journal Epidemiology and Infection estimates that consumption of pork causes 82 deaths, 2,900 hospitalizations and 525,000 infections in the United States every year. The problem is only getting worse; a study published in the December 2014 issue of Foodborne Pathogens and Disease notes that climate change and the higher temperatures it causes allow pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella to flourish.
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are some of the symptoms of food poisoning. They usually appear four to 48 hours after consuming spoiled food but in some cases can even appear up to two weeks after, notes the University of Minnesota.
Read more: The Dangers of Expired Soy Products
Tips to Prevent Pork Spoilage
The USDA recommends keeping meat refrigerated at temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. When you buy pork, put it in the refrigerator as soon as you get home. The last thing you want is bad pork chops that spoiled because you were too lazy to unpack your groceries. Pork lasts for three to five days in the fridge, or longer if you freeze it at temperatures below 0 degrees F.
If you need to thaw it before you cook it, the USDA cautions against keeping it out on the counter to thaw. Instead, it is safer to thaw it in the fridge, in cold water or in the microwave. You can cook pork in the oven or on the stove or grill without thawing it; however, if you're using a slow cooker, it needs to be completely thawed first.
You don't need to wash the pork before you cook it. Per the USDA, the cooking process will destroy any bacteria on the surface of the meat. When you cook it, it is recommended that you use a food thermometer to determine that it has crossed 145 degrees F. Organ meats need to cross an internal temperature of 160 degrees F to be considered safe for consumption.
If you're wondering about pork's sell-by date and expiration date, MSU explains the basics. Pork's sell-by date is the date that retailers have to take it off the shelves and throw it away if it's unsold. If you buy pork near its sell-by date, be sure to use it immediately. The expiration date is the date after which you should throw it away.
- University of Maine: “Safety of Refrigerated Foods After a Power Outage”
- USDA: “Refrigeration and Food Safety”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Most Common Foodborne Pathogens”
- Michigan State University: “Dates on Meat Packages – Sell by, Use by, Freeze by, Packaged on, Expiration Date”
- University of Minnesota: “Safe Meat Handling and Cooking Temperatures”
- Epidemiology and Infection: “Outbreaks Attributed to Pork in the United States, 1998-2015”
- Foodborne Pathogens and Disease: “Effects of Climate Change on Salmonella Infections”
- USDA: “Fresh Pork From Farm to Table”