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We all get forgetful from time to time, but certain situations are more perilous than others, like accidently forgetting your freshly smoked pork shoulder out on the counter all night…
This can be heart breaking, especially considering some pork shoulders take up to 20 hours to fully smoke. But it’s good to be knowledgeable on how to handle pork that has been left out, and if it’s safe to still use.
Can Pork Shoulder be Left Out Overnight?
Pork that has been left out at room temperature for more than 2-3 hours is generally considered unsafe for ingestion. The longer pork sits out, the more bacterial growth has a chance to thrive and spread. Once the pork reaches room temperature, the bacterial growth rate greatly accelerates.
Time V.S Temperature
When working with pork shoulder, always rely on temperature over time as a general rule of thumb. This is true both when cooking the pork shoulder and when holding it.
This means that you should judge meat by its internal temperature rather than how long it has been cooked (or sitting out in this case). For this, we simply follow the rules of the danger zone.
The “danger zone” refers to the temperature range in which meat can be used safely. Different types of meat may have different danger zones. For pork, this temperature range is between 40 and 140 degrees (F).
• Raw pork is safe until it reaches a temperature of 40 degrees (F)
• Cooked pork is safe until it cools to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (F) or less
So, in essence, pork can be left out for longer than 2-3 hours as long as the temperature remains securely outside of the danger zone. Pork can sometimes be left out for up to 8 hours! (But that’s usually while it’s resting when it’s pulled freshly from the smoker.)
This duration can increase if the raw pork is pulled straight from the fridge. Since it’s chilled, it will take longer to warm to room temperature.
How Long Can Pork be Kept in the Refrigerator?
When you put meat in the fridge, it doesn’t stop bacterial development; it just slows it down enough to keep for a few days.
According to the USDA, cooked pork can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days at 40 degrees (F) or lower. This is also determined by how it is kept. Storing pork in an airtight wrap or container extends its shelf life considerably.
In terms of storage, raw pork should adhere to the same guidelines as cooked pork. The only exception is that cooked pork can be stored alongside other foods, but raw pork should be stored separately.
How Long Can Smoked Pork Shoulder be Frozen?
According to the USDA, frozen pork (and all other meats) is safe to eat indefinitely. However, in terms of quality and freshness, you should aim to use your frozen park within three months of freezing.
How to Tell the Pork Has Gone Bad
With cooked pork, use a meat thermometer first. You’re already aware if it’s in the danger zone. However, the fragrance can sometimes become harsh, nearly sour. Sometimes it’s as simple as spotting mold growth.
Raw pork that has gone spoiled is considerably easier to spot visually. Raw pork has pinking red tones with little white stripes. Spoiled raw pork will be stained with mushy spots of grey and slimy texture.
Don’t bother if you observe any of this with raw pork before cooking; you’ll merely waste time and effort. A ruined piece of pork cannot be brought back by smoking or grilling.
What To Do if Your Pork Shoulder is Left Out Overnight
Don’t Risk It
As heart-breaking as it may sound, if your pork shoulder has been sitting out all night, you should definitely throw it out. Even if it took you 15 hours to smoke, it’s not worth endangering your health for.
Foodborne illnesses caused by pork can range from a few days of food poisoning to a severe case of Trichinosis, which can cause worms to grow and imbed themselves in muscle tissue.
The pork should be considered lost if it has been left out at room temperature for more than 2-3 hours. Reheating will not undo the damage caused by bacterial development.
When it comes down to it, it’s simply not worth risking your health on a piece of meat you suspect has gone bad.
“If in doubt, toss it out.”
It is disheartening to waste any food product, but the consequences of foodborne infections caused by spoiled pork can be serious. If you aren’t going to eat it right away, package it and store it in the fridge until you are ready.