Most Americans believe that pork should be well done to kill a parasite that causes debilitating illness. Although the parasite is all but unheard of in modern, commercially raised animals, pork with any degree of pink in it is still regarded with suspicion. This is unwarranted in the case of commercially raised animals, though home-raised hogs, wild boar and other game animals should still be cooked thoroughly.
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Hogs and many other animals, primarily carnivores and omnivores, are prone to infection by a roundworm called Trichinella spiralis. The worm causes a grave illness, called trichinosis, by burrowing into major muscles, including the heart and the diaphragm of its hosts. The worms can be killed in two ways. One way is to freeze any affected meat to a very low temperature and hold it for a period of days. The other method is to cook the meat to 160F, which also kills the worms. Either method renders pork safe to eat.
Since the 1950s, the incidence of Trichinella in commercially raised pork has been in steady decline. Traditionally, farmers took advantage of the pig's omnivorous, scavenging nature and used their pigs to dispose of most of their food waste, handily converting garbage to edible pork. By contrast, modern, commercially raised pork is fed on a carefully controlled diet and has little opportunity to become infected. Although some cases of trichinosis are still traced back to pork consumption, they have usually been proven to be related to a home-reared hog fed partially on garbage.
Safe Cooking Temperatures
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service sets the legal standards for safe cooking temperatures. Because of the risk of trichinosis, the safe cooking temperature for pork was set at 160F, or well done. Other whole cuts of meat, such as beef steaks or roasts, are considered safe at 145F. On May 24, 2011, the USDA announced that whole cuts of commercially raised pork are considered food safe at 145F, the same temperature as beef or lamb. Ground pork must still be cooked to 160F, however, as with other ground meats.
As a rule, pink pork is not dangerous provided that two criteria are met: it should be commercially raised pork, and when tested with a meat thermometer, the pork registers the recommended temperature of 145F. Colour is not an accurate indicator of doneness. Pork will sometimes be pink because of its cooking method or because it has been wholly or partially cured. It can also be pink in the vicinity of the bone, regardless of its cooked temperature.
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- "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen"; Harold S. McGee; 2004
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service; USDA Revises Recommended Cooking Temperature for All Whole Cuts of Meat, Including Pork, to 145 °F; Kathy Bernard; May 2011
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service; Fresh Pork from Farm to Table; June 2011
- PubMed Health; Trichinosis; December 2010
- University of Florida Extension; The Cause of Trichinosis and its Prevention Through Safe Food Handling Practices; Keith R. Schneider, PhD, et al.