Pork is a perishable food that is susceptible to spoilage outside of refrigeration. Ideal temperatures for bacterial growth are between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so the pork has to be kept colder than 40 F or hotter than 140 F to keep it safe to eat. If a few prized pork ribs are left sitting out on the counter well after the food frenzy has ended and the cleanup is over, spoilage may have already set in.
Whether the pork is raw or cooked, it will not keep for an extended period of time outside the refrigerator. In fact, if the temperature is 40 F or above, the pork only remains edible for two hours. If the pork is sitting outdoors in sweltering temperatures of 90 F or above, the pork only lasts for half that time before bacteria renders it unsafe for human consumption and it needs to be thrown away.
When pork is left unrefrigerated for too long, bacteria naturally found on the meat begin to multiply at a dangerous rate. The more bacteria that grow, the more of a chance you have of becoming sick if you eat the pork. Foodborne illnesses, such as those associated with salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, can cause fever, chills, diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting and other serious complications. Pregnant women, young children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to foodborne illness.
If you are unable to cook or eat pork right away, refrigeration buys you some extra time. The cool temperatures of the refrigerator reduce the rate at which bacteria grow. Raw pork keeps for up to five days in the refrigerator; refrigeration keeps cooked pork safe to eat for four days before bacteria once again become a threat. Ground pork keeps for slightly less time in the refrigerator -- two days, tops.
Thawing pork on the counter is not a safe practice; a safer alternative is to thaw pork in the refrigerator the night before you plan to cook it. If you cook the pork immediately afterward, a cold water bath is safe as long as the water is changed every 30 minutes. Microwave thawing is also safe. In a pinch, cook the pork frozen -- doubling the cooking time to ensure thorough heating.
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