Pork Buyer’s Guide

How to buy the healthiest pork at the grocery store.

How to buy the healthiest pork at the grocery store.
Watch: How Certified Organic Pork is Raised
Pork is an excellent source of many nutrients, including thiamin, niacin and riboflavin and vitamin B6, and a good source of zinc and potassium. Unlike the pork of yore, today’s pigs have been bred to be lean, which makes pork a healthy choice—and also makes it trickier to cook. It dries out when overcooked, so make sure to use an instant-read thermometer to cook it just to the right temperature (145°F), and always let the meat rest before serving. Here are some guidelines for choosing the healthiest pork at the supermarket.

Shopping Tips

Look for pork that is light red to cherry red, never pale or white. The fat should be white and creamy with no dark spots. Fresh pork should never have any off odors. The best-tasting pork is marbled with flecks of fat interspersed in the lean meat. Avoid pale, soft pork sitting in the package in liquid—it indicates pork that comes from animals mishandled during processing. When you push down on the pork it will not spring back and when you cook it even more juices will flow out. The meat will be dry and tasteless even when cooked to the desired degree of doneness. Alert the manager at your store that you got bad meat. Because lean pork can dry out so quickly when cooked, many manufacturers sell something called "enhanced" pork. It is injected with a solution of water, salt and phosphates. The percentage of water is usually around 8 to 10 percent. It has a soft, rubbery texture and a slightly acrid or bitter taste.

Reading Labels

Certified Organic: This USDA-regulated term means that all feed given to pigs must be certified organic, which means no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, animal by-products or other additives. Pigs raised to meet certified organic standards also must have access to pasture.
Raised Without Antibiotics: This term indicates that the pork was raised without antibiotics for health maintenance, disease prevention or treatment of disease. Medications not classified as antibiotics may still be used.
No Hormones: The USDA prohibits the use of hormones in pigs, so while the label "hormone-free" is accurate, it doesn’t set one pig apart from another.
Natural: One of the most widely used labels, the term means that no additives or preservatives were introduced after the pork was processed. "Natural" has absolutely nothing to do with standards of care, type and quality of feed or administration of medications.
Percent Retained Water: To control pathogens like Salmonella, producers must quickly lower the temperature of pigs during processing. Most do this by immersing the slaughtered pigs in a cold bath, which causes them to absorb water. The USDA requires producers to list the maximum amount of water that may be retained.
Certified Humane Raised & Handled: Overseen by a nonprofit endorsed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, this label ensures your pig received basic standards of care. CHRH pigs must have access to straw or other material to root around in, as well as objects for manipulation, such as chains or balls.

Healthy Choices

Cuts like tenderloin, loin and sirloin from the middle section of the pig rival skinless chicken breast in percentage of fat, but have a richer flavor. Always trim visible fat from whichever cut of pork you choose.

Storage Tips for Pork

Refrigerate or freeze pork as soon as possible after purchase. If refrigerating pork, be sure to cook it or freeze it by the "Use By" date on the package, or freeze it. If freezing pork for longer than two weeks, wrap in heavy-duty foil, freezer paper or freezer bags to prevent freezer burn. Frozen pork should be defrosted in the refrigerator—never at room temperature—to prevent bacterial growth.