Clean Eating Buyer's Guide to Pork

By: EatingWell Editors  |  EatingWell Quick and Clean: 100 Easy Recipes for Better Meals Every Day

How to buy pork that fits your healthy standards.

Pork Chops with Creamy Mushroom Sauce

Going to the grocery store and trying to buy pork can be confusing. The following guide can help you interpret all the labels so you can choose pork that is fresh and raised using standards for sustainability and humane treatment that you're looking for. 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.

Pictured Recipe: Pork Chops with Creamy Mushroom Sauce

Avoid pale, soft pork sitting in the package in liquid—it indicates pork that comes from animals stressed during processing. The meat will be dry and tasteless even when cooked to the desired degree of doneness.
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 can have a soft, rubbery texture and a slightly acrid or bitter taste. To determine if pork is enhanced, check the label for any added solution that is not plain water.
Refrigerate or freeze pork as soon as possible after purchase. Be sure to cook it or freeze it by the "use by" date on the package. If you're freezing pork for longer than two weeks, make sure it is wrapped tightly, either in a vacuum-sealed package, heavy-duty foil, freezer paper or in a freezer bag. Frozen pork should be defrosted in the refrigerator, never at room temperature, to prevent bacterial growth.
Make It At Home: Healthy Pork Recipes
Here are some of the most common ways that pork is labeled and marketed, along with definitions of what those words mean:

Certified Organic

This USDA-regulated term means that all feed given to the pigs must be certified organic, which means no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, animal by-products or other additives. Pigs raised to meet certified organic standards also must have access to pasture.
Recipe to Try: Ancho-Honey Pork Tenderloin with Cheese Grits
Ancho-Honey Pork Tenderloin with Cheese Grits

Raised Without Antibiotics

This term indicates that the pork was raised without any use of antibiotics (commonly used 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 pork product apart from another.
Recipe to Try: Pork, White Bean & Kale Soup
Pork, White Bean & Kale Soup

Natural

One of the most widely used labels, this simply means that no additives or preservatives were introduced after the pork was processed. "Natural" doesn't tell you anything about standards of care, type and quality of feed or administration of medications.
Recipe to Try: Roast Pork, Asparagus & Cherry Tomato Bowl
Roast Pork, Asparagus & Cherry Tomato Bowl

Percent Retained Water

To control pathogens like Salmonella, producers must quickly lower the temperature of meat during processing. Most do this by immersing the slaughtered animals 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, this label ensures the animal received the basic standards of care that are regulated by the USDA. Encouraging natural behaviors is also considered: pigs must have access to straw or other material to root around in, as well as objects for manipulation, such as chains or balls.

What Does Organic Certification on Meat Mean?

Related:
14-Day Clean Eating Meal Plan
Clean-Eating Dinner Recipes
Clean-Eating Buyers Guide to Chicken
Clean-Eating Buyers Guide to Seafood