The tried-but-true saying that everything but the pig's squeal can be used is accurate indeed. Though pigs are bred primarily for their meat (commonly referred to as pork) and fat, the trimmings and lesser cuts (feet, jowl, tail, etc.) are used for sausage, the bristles for brushes, the hair for furniture and the skin for leather. The majority of pork in the marketplace today is cured like bacon and ham while the remainder is termed "fresh." Slaughterhouses can (but usually don't) request and pay for their pork to be graded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The grades are USDA 1, 2, 3, 4 and utility from the best downward based on the proportion of lean to fat. Whether graded or not, all pork used for intrastate commerce is subjected to state or federal inspection for wholesomeness, insuring that the slaughter and processing of the animal was done under sanitary conditions. Pork shipped interstate must be federally inspected. Today's pork is leaner (about 1⁄3 fewer calories) and higher in protein than that consumed just 10 years ago. Thanks to improved feeding techniques, trichinosis in pork is now also rarely an issue. Normal precautions should still be taken, however, such as washing anything (hands, knives, cutting boards, etc.) that comes in contact with raw pork and never tasting uncooked pork. Cooking it to an internal temperature of 137°F will kill any trichinae. However, allowing for a safety margin for thermometer inaccuracy, most experts recommend an internal temperature of from 150° to 165°F, which will still produce a juicy, tender result. The 170° to 185°F temperature recommended in many cookbooks produces overcooked meat. Though pork generally refers to young swine under a year old, most pork today is slaughtered at between 6 to 9 months, producing a leaner, more tender meat. Look for pork that is pale pink with a small amount of marbling and white (not yellow) fat. The darker pink the flesh, the older the animal. Fresh pork that will be used within six hours of purchase may be refrigerated in its store packaging. Otherwise, remove the packaging and store loosely wrapped with waxed paper in the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to two days. Wrapped airtight, pork can be frozen from three to six months, with the larger cuts having longer storage capabilities than chops or ground meat. Some of the more popular fresh pork cuts are pork chops, pork loin and pork ribs. The most popular cured pork products include ham, bacon, Canadian bacon and salt pork.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.