Cooked pork chops don’t keep forever. When it comes to their shelf life, here’s what you need to know so it doesn’t become a guessing game.
We all know that raw pork chops are a perishable product and, as such, have a limited shelf life that demands proper storage and cooking to the minimum internal temperature for safe consumption.
And yet few of us home cooks realize that cooked pork chops—like all pork dishes and cooked meat—carry the same dangers as raw meat if they’ve been left out or stored in the fridge for too long.
This begs the question, how long is too long?
Cooked pork chops will keep 1-2 hours at room temperature and 3-4 days in the fridge. In the freezer, they will keep forever (although their will start to lose their best quality within 2-3 months from the date of freezing).
If the shelf life of cooked pork chops is the question, we have all the answers you’re looking for to sate your hunger for knowledge below. We will cover the best way to refrigerate, freeze, thaw, and reheat them.
How Long Are Cooked Pork Chops Good For?
To find out the answer, we need to look at three scenarios: (1) when the pork chops have been left out on the table or counter, (2) when they are refrigerated, and (3) when they have been frozen.
Left Out on the Counter
Cooked pork chops should never be left to sit out at room temperature for longer than 1-2 hours, the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture says on its website.
Room temperature, which, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language is 68-72°F, falls in the range of temperatures the USDA has definitively dubbed “the danger zone.”
The danger zone is the range of temperatures from 40°F and 140°F in which pathogenic bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli, and Campylobacter, multiplies the most rapidly.
If you leave cooked pork chops at room temperature for too long, the pathogenic bacteria on them will grow to dangerous levels and make them unsafe to eat. This, as we’ve already established, happens sooner than most home cooks think.
The hotter it is outside, the shorter you should leave the cooked pork chops out for. On a sultry summer’s day, when the outside temperature is 90 degrees or more, they should not be left for more than an hour.
This is the main reason why leftover cooked pork chops—as with any other meat—should be cooled immediately after cooking and stored in the fridge or freezer. Read on to find out exactly how to store them and how long they will keep.
In the Fridge
Properly refrigerated, cooked pork chops will keep in for 3-4 days. Since refrigeration hinders but doesn’t halt bacterial growth, it’s best to eat leftovers within a few days of cooking.
To store cooked pork chops in the refrigerator, wrap them tightly in plastic or place them in an airtight container with the lid closed. As a golden rule, meat is best stored in the lower compartments of the refrigerator, where it is coldest.
If you suspect that the cooked pork chops in your fridge have been there for a longer than this and may no longer be safe for you and the rest of the family to eat, err on the side of caution and throw them in the garbage.
Contrary to what most people think, the bacteria that can cause food-borne illness are not the same ones as spoilage bacteria. In other words, the cooked pork chops in your refrigerator may well smell and taste fine—and nevertheless get you sick.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 48 million Americans contract food poisoning each year. Simply put, that’s one in six people in the country! Of them, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.
In the Freezer
Cooked pork chops freeze, thaw, and reheat well.
Since bacterial activity halts at freezer temperatures, frozen foods stay safe to eat forever. However, they lose their best aroma, flavor, and texture, over time, to the extent that they are no longer as appetizing as once before.
Properly frozen, cooked pork chops will keep their best quality for up to 2-3 months. To protect the chops from freezer burn, seal them in freezer bags or an airtight storage container. This will prevent the cold circulating air in the freezer from drying them out.
Thawing Frozen Cooked Pork Chops
The safest way to thaw frozen cooked pork chops is to transfer them from the freezer to the fridge the night before you plan to eat them. On the next day, they will have thawed and be ready for reheating.
Thawing in ice water (or cold water) is also an option. Run the faucet on the coldest setting for 2-3 minutes. Then close the sink, let it fill with water and put in as much ice as possible. Seal the chops in a leakproof zip-top plastic bag, then submerge them in the ice water and let them thaw for 1-2 hours.
Alternatively, frozen pork chops can be defrosted in the microwave, in 2-3 minute intervals using the “defrost” setting. More modern convection ovens also have a defrost function that allows you to thaw foods with moderately hot air.
If you thaw the pork chops in any way other than in the refrigerator, you must reheat and eat them immediately after thawing.
Another watch-out is to never leave the cooked pork chops out for longer than 1-2 hours. This means that countertop thawing, despite lore to the contrary, is completely out of the question lest the meat becomes unsafe to eat.
Reheating meat that’s sat out for too long (or cooking it) won’t make any more safe to eat. The high heat will kill the living bacteria on the surface, that part is true, but it will not inactivate the toxins that they left behind in the meat.
Reheating Pork Chops
Reheating pork chops, as long as they’ve been thawed beforehand, is easy. Simply heat the oven to 350°F for 15 minutes, then pop the pork chops in the oven. You can put them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper for easy clean-up.
The pork chops are done reheating when they’re hot enough to eat (don’t leave them in the oven too long or the meat will dry out and become too crusty and stiff). Serve the chops with condiments, such as BBQ sauce, honey mustard, or pickle relish that will add moisture to the meat when eaten.
Telling If Cooked Pork Chops Are Spoiled
Spoiled meat is unsafe to eat and should be discarded immediately. As a general rule of thumb, cooked pork chops should smell appetizing and have a clean, dry feel to them. Bad odor and a slimy texture are tell-tale signs of spoilage.
That said, remember that spoilage bacteria are not the same as pathogenic bacteria. Pork that’s sat out at room temperature or that’s kept in the fridge for too long can smell and taste fine, yet still put you at high risk of food-borne illnesses.