We’ve all been there. Maybe you forgot about the raw pork chops sitting in the fridge. Or maybe you left the cooked pork chops out on the counter for a longer than you should have.
However it happened, now you’re grappling the question whether it’s still safe to eat them.
This is an important question, especially when you consider the sobering statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC estimates that 48 million Americans contract foodborne illnesses annually, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Given these numbers, it’s essential to know how to tell if pork has gone bad so that you and your loved ones can avoid becoming part of these statistics.
When Do Pork Chops Go Bad?
Firstly, if you kept pork chops for too long, throw them away, even if they don’t show any of the warning signs of spoilage.
Secondly, even if you haven’t stored pork chops for too long, but they show signs of premature spoilage, throw them away.
When pork becomes overgrown with spoilage bacteria, it’s likely that it hasn’t been stored properly and may also be overgrown with disease-causing bacteria. While nobody wants to waste food, it’s not worth the risk of a foodborne illness.
Food spoilage and foodborne illnesses are both important topics in food safety, but it’s essential to understand the difference between the two. It may sound counterintuitive at first, but not once you understand the difference between bacterial spoilage and contamination.
Spoilage bacteria are relatively harmless. They cause food to smell bad or feel slimy, however, they won’t necessarily make you sick.1Jarvie, M. (2015, October 12). Food spoilage and food pathogens, what’s the difference? MSU Extension. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/food_spoilage_and_food_pathogens_whats_the_difference Pathogenic bacteria are the kind that can cause foodborne illnesses, and they are often undetectable by our senses.2(2020, March 5). Foodborne Pathogens. US Food & Drug Administration. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://www.fda.gov/food/outbreaks-foodborne-illness/foodborne-pathogens
These harmful bacteria can only be detected by laboratory testing. It’s important to take precautions to prevent the growth of these bacteria and to properly handle and store food to avoid foodborne illnesses.
How to Tell If Pork Chops Have Gone Bad
Raw Pork Chops
Store pork chops in the fridge or freezer and don’t let them sit out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. If you accidentally left a package of raw pork chops sitting in the trunk of your car or on the kitchen countertop for longer than 2 hours, discard them.3Pork Safety. National Pork Board. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://pork.org/pork-safety/
Properly refrigerated, raw pork chops can be kept in the fridge for 3 to 5 days before bacterial growth makes them unsafe to eat. If it’s been longer than 5 days since you purchased the pork chops, discard them, even if they look and smell good.4USDA (2023, March 23). How long can I keep meat in the refrigerator? AskUSDA. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-long-can-I-keep-meat-in-the-refrigerator
Fresh pork chops should smell meaty and pasty, like lard. The meat should have a pink-to-red hue, and the fat should be snow-white. Before cooking raw pork chops, examine them carefully and give them the sniff test.
Regardless of storage time and method, if you notice any of the signs of spoilage on raw pork chops, throw them away and don’t cook them. This includes a sour, ammonia-like smell; a sticky, slimy texture; and a grayish or greenish hue.
Cooked Pork Chops
Eat cooked pork chops within 2 hours of cooking. Chill and refrigerate any leftover pork that you don’t plan on eating right away as soon as possible. If you accidentally left cooked pork out on the dining table, kitchen counter, or in the pan for longer than two hours, throw it away.5USDA (2023, March 24). What is the “2 Hour Rule” with leaving food out? AskUSDA. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/What-is-the-2-Hour-Rule-with-leaving-food-out
Once refrigerated, cooked pork chops will keep for 3 to 4 days in the fridge. Don’t eat leftover pork chops if they’ve been in fridge for more than 4 days. They can cause food poisoning even if they smell, look, and taste fine.6U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (2021, September 20). Cold Food Storage Chart. FoodSafety.gov. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/cold-food-storage-charts
Before reheating cooked pork chops, look them over and smell them:
Regardless of storage time and method, if you notice any of the signs of spoilage on cooked pork chops, throw them away and don’t eat them. This includes a bad smell, a slimy texture, or mold growth on the pork chops’ surface.
Why You Should Never Eat Bad Pork Chops
Eating bad pork chops can cause potentially life-threatening food poisoning, particularly for those at higher risk, such as children younger than 5 years, adults aged 65 and older, pregnant women and their unborn babies, and individuals who are sick or recovering from an illness.
There are three situations in which eating pork can lead to foodborne illness:
- If the pork is undercooked;
- If the pork hasn’t been stored properly;
- If if the pork has been stored properly but has also been kept too long.
Food poisoning is the illness caused by pork contaminated with disease-causing bacteria and the toxins that they leave behind in it. Although there’s always a certain amount of bacteria on pork, storing it improperly or for too long can allow these bacteria to grow to potentially harmful levels.
Questions & Answers
Do Pork Chops Go Bad If Left Out?
Leaving pork chops at room temperature for too long can allow bacteria to grow to unsafe levels, causing them go bad prematurely and increasing the risk of food poisoning.
Refrigerate or freeze pork chops promptly and to follow proper food safety guidelines to prevent foodborne illness.
According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), raw or cooked pork should never sit out for more than 2 hours at room temperature (this time gets reduced to 1 hour if the outside temperature is 90°F or above).
Do Pork Chops Go Bad in the Fridge?
While refrigeration slows bacterial growth, it doesn’t completely stop it.
Eventually, the bacteria will grow to harmful levels and cause spoilage, which is why it’s important to follow storage guidelines and discard meat that’s been in the fridge for too long.
Food safety experts advise that raw pork chops should be cooked or frozen within 3 to 5 days of purchase, and cooked pork chops should be eaten, refrigerated, or frozen within 3 to 4 days of cooking.
Do Pork Chops Go Bad in the Freezer?
Food safety experts agree that food frozen at 0°F (-18°C) will always be safe to eat. This means that frozen pork chops won’t go bad in the freezer as long as they were still safe when you froze them.
However, the quality of the pork chops will eventually decline. Freezer burn, which occurs when the meat is exposed to air and loses moisture, can also affect the texture and flavor of the pork chops. For best quality, it’s recommended to consume frozen pork chops within 4 to 12 months of freezing.7University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Food Storage. UNL Food Extension. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://food.unl.edu/free-resource/food-storage
How Long Are Pork Chops Good For After the Sell-By Date?
Federal regulations don’t require product dating for pork chops. However, certain states or retailers may choose to label their pork chops with a sell-by date nevertheless.
The sell-by date can be a helpful guideline to follow, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the pork chops will be bad or unsafe to eat after that date. The sell-by date is simply the date that the store should sell the product by; it doesn’t necessarily indicate the actual freshness or safety of the product.
As a general rule, provided that the pork chops haven’t been left to sit out for more than 2 hours and have been refrigerated properly, they will generally keep for 3 to 5 days after the sell-by date.
Won’t Recooking or Reheating the Pork Chops Make Them Safe to Eat?
It’s a common misconception that reheating or cooking bad pork can make it safe to eat again. In fact, this is not true. Once pork has gone bad and been contaminated with harmful bacteria, no amount of cooking or reheating will make it safe to eat.
While it’s true that heat destroys bacteria, some bacteria form heat-resistant spores that survive high temperatures. Others leave toxins in the meat, and ingesting those toxins in large enough quantities can just as well cause foodborne illness.
Always test pork chops for freshness before cooking, reheating, or eating them.
If you kept the pork chops too long or they show signs of spoilage, throw them away and don’t eat them. Look out for a sour smell, sticky texture, gray meat, and yellow fat.
- 1Jarvie, M. (2015, October 12). Food spoilage and food pathogens, what’s the difference? MSU Extension. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/food_spoilage_and_food_pathogens_whats_the_difference
- 2(2020, March 5). Foodborne Pathogens. US Food & Drug Administration. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://www.fda.gov/food/outbreaks-foodborne-illness/foodborne-pathogens
- 3Pork Safety. National Pork Board. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://pork.org/pork-safety/
- 4USDA (2023, March 23). How long can I keep meat in the refrigerator? AskUSDA. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-long-can-I-keep-meat-in-the-refrigerator
- 5USDA (2023, March 24). What is the “2 Hour Rule” with leaving food out? AskUSDA. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/What-is-the-2-Hour-Rule-with-leaving-food-out
- 6U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (2021, September 20). Cold Food Storage Chart. FoodSafety.gov. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/cold-food-storage-charts
- 7University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Food Storage. UNL Food Extension. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://food.unl.edu/free-resource/food-storage