Edited By John Smits
Most fresh pork products are good for up to three to four days past the sell-by date – ground pork, however, should be cooked or frozen within two days after the sell-by date.
Sell-by dates can help you estimate when your pork may spoil, but they are not guarantees, and you should check your pork for signs of spoilage (more on that in a bit) before cooking and consuming it.
I come from a family where expiration dates were more casual guidelines than actual rules. Once I started working in restaurants, the importance of food safety was drilled into me.
I’ll let you in on everything I learned. I’m going to explain how long pork is good for, what sell-by dates actually are, and lots more!
According to the USDA, you can probably use or freeze fresh pork between 3 to 4 days past its sell-by date. This covers pork chops, tenderloin, roasts, and fresh sausage – most raw pork products.
If you have ground pork, you can cook it or freeze it two days past its sell-by date.
As mentioned, raw ground pork has a shorter shelf life than whole cuts of pork. Why is this?
Ground pork has a higher risk of causing food-borne illness. Grinding meat increases its surface area, giving bacteria more places to grow. Also, bacteria live on the exterior of the meat, and when meat is ground, the exterior and interior of the meat are mixed up. Once it is ground, bacteria are present throughout the meat, not just on its surface.
This is why, for example, a pork chop cooked to 145°F is safe to consume, but ground pork needs to be cooked to 165°F – to thoroughly kill all the bacteria that are present inside the ground pork.
For these reasons, ground pork can go bad faster than whole cuts.
Back before I had anyone to teach me the difference, I would get confused between the sell-by date and the use-by date.
Well, the sell-by date is decided by the company or the grocery store where you are buying your fresh pork from. It’s the date the store will display the pork until. It is not a safety date.
This is known as food product dating, and in addition to informing consumers, it’s a form of inventory management.
This doesn’t mean that your raw pork is bad once it has passed this date.
Ok, then what is the use-by date? Well, you can think of this date as the expiration date of raw pork. It is quite likely that past this date, the meat will be spoiled.
Here’s the kicker – no, you can’t always trust the sell-by date. If the pork wasn’t stored properly or if it was already tainted, then it is likely that the pork will get you sick even if you pay attention to the dates mentioned by the manufacturer.
Due to this, you should know the signs that I mention below to figure out if your pork is spoiled or not…
If your pork is slightly past the sell-by date and you’re not sure if it’s spoiled, here are some signs to figure out if the meat is bad:
The first thing that you might notice is a sour smell. Typically, pork has little to no smell. So, if it smells off or there is a sour odor coming from it, then the pork has gone bad and needs to be tossed.
You can also try touching the meat. If it has spoiled, then it can have a slimy texture and can be slightly sticky to the touch.
Last, but not least, the pork may look off. It could be a sickly gray color or brown. Fresh pork should be slightly pink, while the fat is firm and white.
If your pork is spoiled, throw it out. Eating tainted meat isn’t a risk that you want to take. Take it from me – food poisoning is no fun. Also, young children and the elderly are more prone to severe bouts of illness and may even need to be hospitalized in certain cases.
If you aren’t going to be using the pork soon, freezing it will keep it unspoiled until you’re ready for it.
So, how long does pork stay good in the freezer?
You can store the pork in the freezer for up to 6 months. For better taste and texture, I suggest using it within 3 months.
Keep in mind that power outages, opening and closing the freezer constantly, and placing hot foods in the freezer can cause the temperature to rise. If the temperature gets too warm, the pork can still go bad.
Here are the guidelines for freezing pork properly:
Defrosting the pork properly is as important as storing it carefully. One way to let it thaw is in the refrigerator. This can take a long time (24 hours per five pounds of meat). Even small cuts of meat take a full day to defrost in the fridge. Cook your pork once it’s done defrosting.
To speed up the process, fill up your kitchen sink with cold water and place the pork, tightly wrapped, in the sink. Change the water with new cold water every thirty minutes or so. As long as the water temperature stays below 40°F, there’s no need to worry about bacterial contamination. Don’t refreeze meat that’s defrosted this way.
Smaller cuts of pork can also be defrosted in your microwave. Cook them once defrosted – don’t refreeze them.
Once pork is 5 days past its sell-by date, I would recommend not eating it. It isn’t a good idea as bacteria are likely to have set in at this point. This applies to all cuts of pork, not just chops.
If you cook and eat the pork five days after its sell-by date, there’s a good chance you’ll get food poisoning.
There you go – now you know how long pork lasts past its sell-by date. This makes it a lot easier for you to prevent food poisoning and ensures the food you cook for your family is safe.