Despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved cooking pork to an internal temperature of  145 degrees F, with a three-minute rest, consumers aren’t buying it, says a Pork Checkoff official.

New research shows consumers are more comfortable with cooking recommendations that offer a range of doneness, according to John Green, director of strategic marketing for the Pork Checkoff.

“The findings have changed Checkoff consumer communications from recommending just 145 degrees with a 3-minute rest to promoting a range of doneness: medium- rare (145 degrees with a 3-minute rest) to medium (160 degrees),” Green says.

The Checkoff surveyed 300 people in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. While 61% of respondents said they have a meat thermometer, less than 20% use it to check to see if pork is done. Instead, they cut into pork to check the color, letting the juices out.

“Most participants said they prefer pork cooked medium (160 degrees) to well-done (170 degrees), which far exceeds USDA’s guideline of cooking pork to 145 degrees with a 3-minute rest,” Green says. “Well-done pork will be tough and dry.”

The participants evaluated six photos of fresh pork cooked to a variety of temperatures and scored them based on whether they looked safe to eat. Seventy-eight percent of the respondents favored photos of pork cooked to 170 degrees.

Photos of pork cooked to 145 degrees were not as appealing and reportedly would not motivate the consumers to purchase pork.

Many participants also agreed with the statement: “To be safe and healthy, pork should be thoroughly cooked so there’s no pink coloring in the center.”

Healthy Meets Delicious
Even after being advised of the new USDA cooking guidelines, few consumers said they would be comfortable serving pork cooked to 145 degrees. The findings demonstrate the continued need to educate consumers how to cook juicy pork. These valuable insights are being incorporated into messages to consumers, such as this past summer’s Cook It Like a Steak campaign for pork chops.

“Years of promotion and education efforts may be needed to change long-standing behaviors,” Green says. “To move toward that goal, the Checkoff will continue to educate consumers to cook pork between 145 to 160 degrees to enjoy juicy, tender, flavorful pork.”