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Lots of undercooked pork alert!
September 27, 2006 10:04 PM   Subscribe

PorkFilter: Is there anything medically wrong with eating large amounts of pork, sometimes irregularly prepared?

I'm a college student, and the only meat I can afford is pork (shoulder, loin end, etc.) I like meat, so I end up eating it almost every day. I don't get tired of it because I'm a pretty good cook and can use different sauces and such. I like my pork juicy, so sometimes I'll find that my chop is pinkish near the bone area.

I haven't experienced any problems, (other than rustling from my Jewish ancestors rolling in their graves) so I'm tempted to conclude it's okay. My momma always said to cook pork very thoroughly, though. Is this habit dangerous?
posted by nasreddin to Health & Fitness (46 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Always cook pork thoroughly.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:07 PM on September 27, 2006


I think ikkyu2 is right on the money. Parasites invade most meat, and while most people know that salmonella comes with undercooked chicken, people don't generally realize that trichinella parasites come with pork. Also, the chances of getting sick from undercooked pork are probably slightly higher than with undercooked chicken.
A little bit of pink near the bone isn't too bad, but try to minimize it as much as possible.
posted by fvox13 at 10:12 PM on September 27, 2006


Pork is fine, as long as you cook it all the way (as you and ikkyu2 mentioned).

Alternately, in case you're interested and/or don't know: lots of cuts of beef are quite inexpensive as well, and you may enjoy them for a change of pace. I like bottom round for marinating and then broiling/grilling; it can usually be had for about 2 bucks a pound on sale.
posted by rossination at 10:13 PM on September 27, 2006


Get a meat thermometer and use it.
posted by catseatcheese at 10:18 PM on September 27, 2006


Um, modern practices have virtually eliminated the presence of trichinosis in pork in the USA/Canada. You can pretty much eat pork raw with little chance of a problem these days. I wouldn't eat raw pork, obviously, but the paranoia about trichinosis is very outdated.
posted by Justinian at 10:31 PM on September 27, 2006


(FWIW, trichinosis is killed at just under 140F... cooking to 160F was recommended in the old days but is likely unnecessary now and will lead to yucky pork).

But then, I eat sushi too. You're probably at least as likely to get a parasite from sushi as from pork.
posted by Justinian at 10:33 PM on September 27, 2006


From Alton Brown:

"Alton: I do not always agree with the government and in this case I think they're way off base. For one thing, Trichinella spiralis die at 137 degrees. Of course in this case they would have had to survive the curing process which is highly doubtful. The water activity level of a country ham is simply too low to support that kind of life. Also, T spriralis have been nearly eradicated from the American hog population through the use of better feeds. As far as I know, the only instances of trichinosis in recent years involved wild game such as bear and puma."

That's regarding ham in particular, but has some information on pork in general.
posted by Addlepated at 10:35 PM on September 27, 2006


Don't sweat it. Trichinosis is a vanishingly rare disease, with fewer than a dozen cases a year in the US. And you can bet that there are quite a few more than a dozen people who are eating "undercooked" pork. For all practical purposes, it's been eliminated from the American agricultural swine pool. You'd be better off spending your energy worrying about West Nile or BSE or, hell, hookworm.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:35 PM on September 27, 2006


ikkyu2 writes "Always cook pork thoroughly."

To 170?! That's just nuts. You might as well eat shoe leather.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:41 PM on September 27, 2006


Oh sure, believe Alton Brown but not me.
posted by Justinian at 10:41 PM on September 27, 2006


Thanks MeFi. Now I can enjoy my pork chop and mustard sandwich without worrying too hard about "in especially severe cases, death may occur."
posted by nasreddin at 10:55 PM on September 27, 2006


No, really. Always cook pork thoroughly.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:12 PM on September 27, 2006


If you freeze the meat it will kill all the trichinosis causing parasites. (Which, as others have mentioned, are probably not there anyway.) You need to cook the meat thoroughly to kill any microorganisms that might be living on the outside of the meat. Once again, get a meat thermometer, and use it.

This is from the USDA:

What Foodborne Organisms Are Associated With Pork?
Pork must be adequately cooked to eliminate disease-causing parasites and bacteria that may be present. Humans may contract trichinosis (caused by the parasite, Trichinella spiralis) by eating undercooked pork. Much progress has been made in reducing trichinosis in grain-fed hogs and human cases have greatly declined since 1950. Today's pork can be enjoyed when cooked to a medium internal temperature of 160 °F or a well-done internal temperature of 170 °F.

Some other foodborne micro-organisms that can be found in pork, as well as other meats and poultry, are Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus and Listeria monocytogenes. They are all destroyed by proper handling and thorough cooking to an internal temperature of 160 °F.
posted by catseatcheese at 11:42 PM on September 27, 2006


I was just about to bitch and moan about 160 degrees being "roof shingle" quality. But apparently that isn't true with pork.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:41 AM on September 28, 2006


Taenia solium is also killed by freezing to -10 C for a week or so, and, like trichinosis, is exceedingly uncommon in North America and Europe.

So, no, not really. 140 is perfectly fine if you like your pork on the medium-rare side, and less is not all that inadvisable (unless you live in, say, Korea, in which case you should just void all pork altogether).

Hell, if I go for dim sum, I'm eating pork that's been lightly steamed at 100 or so. My German friends tell me about eating ground raw pork with onions all the time. If eating undercooked pork was all that dangerous in Western nations, we would surely see more cases of swine-borne parasitic infestation, and we don't.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:43 AM on September 28, 2006


Bleh. Fine, cook your pork to 170F. Enjoy the taste of shoe leather, perhaps with some ketchup.

Personally, I wish I could much more easily buy unpasteurized cheese, juice, and other tasty treats. And I like sushi. And rare beef. And pork cooked to less than 170F. Sometimes I enjoy things made with raw eggs. I've eaten raw beef, too, though I don't care for the taste enough that I'd order it again.

Life is about weighing costs and benefits. You roll the dice and you take your chances, whichever way you choose.
posted by Justinian at 12:45 AM on September 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'm with you. Live with gusto. And think of all the adventures you and your worms can go on!
posted by Lord_Pall at 4:09 AM on September 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


If grilling a chop to 160° isn't your thing, make carnitas — or posole, or jerk pork, or pulled pork, or any of the other slow-cooked dishes out there. Most of the recipes you'll find can be easily adapted to a crockpot, so you can just leave them to simmer while you're in class, and if you cook up a whole shoulder roast you'll have plenty of leftovers to freeze for later.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:07 AM on September 28, 2006


I'm a college student, and the only meat I can afford is pork

Chicken is even cheaper still, no?
posted by wackybrit at 5:37 AM on September 28, 2006


With all of the discussion about diseases (and I am in the cook pork thouroughly, but not necessarily to 160-170 degrees camp) you are forgetting that pork tends to be high in fats and triglycerides. While I am the first to admit that the link between dietary fat and heart disease is not as clear as some would have you believe, there is definitely a link between dietary fat and obesity. Because of this you might want to vary your diet a little more. I often see various cuts of poultry (especially thighs) at bargain prices, and sometimes farm raised catfish can be pretty affordable, for example. Since you enjoy cooking, look up recipes for something like "rustic" or "peasant" cooking, as these types of traditional recipes revolve around flavorful food that is inexpensive. I love pork (Italian sausage for dinner last night) but any diet that is built around one ingredient is not a good idea from a nutritional standpoint.
posted by TedW at 5:37 AM on September 28, 2006


I always pull a pork loin out of the oven when they hit 140 degrees. Carryover brings it up to 145 or so and it's pink and juicy inside when I cut it open. I've done it this way for years and don't have trichinosis as far as I can tell. I've also preferred my bacon chewy forever.

A) trichinosis has been all but eradicated these days. It came from feeding the pigs kitchen scraps, and Hormel doesn't tend to do that.

B) the trichina worm dies at 137 degrees. As long as you hit that number you're safe. But if you cook it until it's "the other white meat" you're overcooking it. Try it just to 145 sometime and you'll see what you've been missing!

(and fat is good for you.)
posted by bink at 5:58 AM on September 28, 2006


TedW: Modern pork tenderlion is as lean, or leaner, than skinless chicken breasts: "In the Battle of the White Meats, Pork Wins Low-Fat Fight". There's been a lot of breeding of pigs to get them leaner. One of the interesting outcomes of that is that is that overcooking pork has a greater effect on the meat than back when pork was fattier.
posted by skynxnex at 6:41 AM on September 28, 2006


Skynxnex: Does that apply to cheaper cuts such as shoulders and butts? Tenderloin can be pretty pricey, so the OP probably isn't buying too much of it.
posted by TedW at 7:16 AM on September 28, 2006


Pork comes out of the oven/pan at 135 in my house, and neither my wife nor I have had any trichinosis issues. Sometimes (shockingly) the government doesn't know best.
posted by fet at 7:18 AM on September 28, 2006


We eat pink pork, and are disease-free. I think the most important thing to consider is where your meat is sourced from. If your meat is sourced from local, free-range/organic/humane/yougettheidea farms, you can eat it pretty much raw. If you're eating supermarket meat (sounds like your case), which is mass-produced by companies with looser controls, in large plants more conductive to breeding microorganisms, I'd be a bit more careful about cooking it for a variety of reasons. Though I still wouldn't feel the need to cook it "very" thoroughly.

BTW, if you ever watch Iron Chef, they occasionally eat things like raw turkey, and no one dies.
posted by mkultra at 7:41 AM on September 28, 2006


And, of course, we're coming off a major e.Coli outbreak in spinach, and I don't hear any one claiming that we should cook our vegetables to 160 degrees.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:54 AM on September 28, 2006


Hell, if I go for dim sum, I'm eating pork that's been lightly steamed at 100 or so.

Solid-one-love - I think you're confusing celsius and fahrenheit. Steam would be at 100 degrees celsius or higher, not 100 degrees fahrenheit. 100 degrees celsius is around 210 degrees fahrenheit. So, your steamed dumplings are being more than adequately cooked.
posted by Jupiter Jones at 8:11 AM on September 28, 2006


Justinian, just so you know, 50 to 60 percent of sushi in the United States is frozen at some point in its journey from the ocean to kill parasites.
posted by hermitosis at 8:51 AM on September 28, 2006


Solid-one-love - I think you're confusing celsius and fahrenheit.

No confusion on my part: I said "cooked at", not "cooked to". The cooking medium is at 100 degrees Celsius; steaming generally cooks meat to a lower internal temperature than grilling or roasting, especially when lightly steamed, as in the case of (for example) sui mai, where the internal temperature of the pork will be significantly lower than 140 F when done.

I'm Canadian, so I always think of water and air temperature in Centigrade and food temperature in Fahrenheit, much as I measure height in feet but distance in kilometres.
posted by solid-one-love at 9:29 AM on September 28, 2006


Ok...it's not trichina we're worried about here. We've already established that it has basically been eradicated in the U.S. It's the other diseases that are associated with pork. Yes, trichina is killed at 137...but Salmonella sp., E. coli, ect...are not.
posted by catseatcheese at 1:19 PM on September 28, 2006


Oh yeah...the E. coli outbreak was in fresh spinach. No one cooks fresh spinach so the government telling people to cook it would do no good.
posted by catseatcheese at 1:24 PM on September 28, 2006


Yes, trichina is killed at 137...but Salmonella sp., E. coli, ect...are not.

Both are killed at 145, but you will be hard pressed to find a case of salmonella or e. coli poisoning from pork. I mean, I could conceivably get infected by giardia from my drinking water if I don't boil it, but what are the odds?

No one cooks fresh spinach

Buh-whuh?
posted by solid-one-love at 1:37 PM on September 28, 2006


you will be hard pressed to find a case of salmonella or e. coli poisoning from pork

A quick Google of "pork salmonella outbreak" and "pork e coli outbreak" will take the truthiness out of that statement. Having said that, it is important to remember that the government's temperature guidelines are meant to appy to everyone: young, old, sick, healthy, and so are very conservative. Healthy people can generally be somewhat more liberal in their implementation of food safety. On the other hand, it is important to remember that some types of food poisoning (such as the recent E coli in spinach) are due to toxins rather than the actual organisms and so different standards apply.

Finally, I do have to say that fresh spinach quickly sauteed in olive oil with some garlic, red pepper, and pine nuts, with a pinch of sea salt, is quite tasty.
posted by TedW at 2:01 PM on September 28, 2006


A quick Google of "pork salmonella outbreak" and "pork e coli outbreak" will take the truthiness out of that statement.

Actually, it doesn't. On the first five pages I see a total of two salmonella cases outside North America and one in North America, and was completely unable to find a case of e coli poisoning from pork in the first ten pages of listings. A great many results doesn't indicate a great number of hits.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:07 PM on September 28, 2006


USDA: Disease caused by Salmonella costs pork producers an estimated $100 million annually. Reports of human outbreaks of salmonellosis linked to pork consumption are rare, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that foodborne outbreaks of salmonellosis from all sources affect 1.4 million consumers annually.

Turns out there is Salmonella in pork. People generally cook pork enough to kill the Salmonella.

Where did you get information saying that E. coli and Salmonella are killed at 145?

I meant that no one cooks fresh spinach to 160. Sorry about the confusion.

Also, I should mention that I used to work in the pork industry, both on pig farms and in the slaughter plant.
posted by catseatcheese at 2:13 PM on September 28, 2006


Reports of human outbreaks of salmonellosis linked to pork consumption are rare

I'm glad we agree.

Where did you get information saying that E. coli and Salmonella are killed at 145?

Google "salmonella 145 degrees" and "coli 145 degrees" and it'll pop up eventually. It's something like three minutes at 155, five minutes at 150 and ten minutes at 145. Also, FSNet, a Canadian food contamination site, recommends 145 for pork chops.

I meant that no one cooks fresh spinach to 160

Thirty seconds in boiling water will bring fresh spinach to 160, which is how a great many people, including myself, cook it.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:22 PM on September 28, 2006


Actually, it doesn't. On the first five pages I see a total of two salmonella cases outside North America and one in North America, and was completely unable to find a case of e coli poisoning from pork in the first ten pages of listings.

The second hit I get for E Coli is a report of contamination linked to Genoa salami (and there are other cases as well), while the first is a report of contamination linked to a London butcher shop, but which doesn't specify the type of meat involved. I agree with you that this sort of outbreak associated pork is uncommon, but it is possible to find cases, isolated or otherwise. As other instances of food poisoning become more common, it is likely that you will see pork implicated more often.

As one last bit of advice to the OP, all this talk about cooking temperatures ignores the other potential problem with raw meat, and that is cross-contamination. Regardless of the temperature of your cooked meat, if you have raw juices on the cutting board you use for your salad, you might as well be eating your meat raw.
posted by TedW at 3:06 PM on September 28, 2006


Thirty seconds at 160 or 10 minutes at 145....

Just buy a meat thermometer and use it. Don't go on color alone.
posted by catseatcheese at 3:09 PM on September 28, 2006


Yes. I love my digital probe thermometer.
posted by solid-one-love at 3:18 PM on September 28, 2006


Two issues to address, both from Cook's Illustrated. They put a heckuva lot of science into a subjective, um, subject like cooking.

First, on the subject of the safe temperature for cooking pork:
"Pork Paradox
Guidelines for cooking pork to temperatures as high as 190 degrees originated decades ago when pork was much fattier, its quality was inconsistent, and fears of trichinosis ran high. Today the risk of trichinosis is nearly nonexistent; only 13 human cases of trichinosis were confirmed in 2002, and the source of contamination for eight of those cases was wild game. What's more, even when the trichina parasite is present, it is killed when the temperature of the meat rises to 137 degrees. However, other pathogens, including salmonella, are not killed at this low temperature. That is why both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Pork Board recommend cooking pork to a final internal temperature of 160 degrees. What to do? We cook pork to a final internal temperature of 145 degrees (the roasts or chops are often taken out of the oven at a lower internal temperature, tented, and then allowed to rise to their final temperature), but, if safety is your key concern, follow the USDA guidelines."


For them, taking the meat out of the oven at 135-140 gives a final temp of 145 if you let it sit for 5 min (due to carryover).

Next, you mentioned that you like your pork juicy. Whether or not you follow the "looser" temperature guidelines mentioned, you can soak your pork for as little as an hour to get some nice juicy, tasty results. They recommend 1 quart of brine per pound of food (not to exceed 2 gal.) and to brine the meat for 1 hour per pound of food, not to exceed 8 hrs. (meat starts breaking down too much). The brine mix (per quart of course):
1 quart of cold water
1/2 cup kosher or 1/4 cup table salt
1/2 cup sugar


There is a different ratio for high-heat roasting.

Rather than steal all their paid content, I would recommend going to their site to get more info. They go into the whole science of it, too.
posted by JLobster at 2:19 PM on September 29, 2006


We've already established that [trichinosis] has basically been eradicated in the U.S.

Well, that's nice. I've seen a couple of cases every year I've been in practice here in the U.S., though.

Live worms living in your own muscles, people. Really delightful.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:01 AM on September 30, 2006


Well, that's nice. I've seen a couple of cases every year I've been in practice here in the U.S., though.

10 to 15 cases per year in the US, and you alone are seeing as many as 20% of them?

I'm afraid that this sets off my bullshit detector.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:03 AM on September 30, 2006


Yep, and of the 300 new cases of CJD annually in the US, I've read the EEGs of 20 of them in the last 3 months. How is this possible? As far as I can tell: not every case of mandatory-report disease actually gets reported.

The L.A. County hospital E/R averages one case of neurocysticercosis a week, or at least it did a few years ago. These pig-borne diseases are far from extinct.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:19 PM on October 2, 2006


Yep [...] How is this possible? As far as I can tell: not every case of mandatory-report disease actually gets reported.

What you are suggesting is that 99.999% of these cases are not getting reported. There are 700,000 physicians in the US. You claim to see a couple of cases of trichinosis per year, out of about 12 reported cases. That suggests, if you see an average number of cases -- and since you're a neurologist and not a parasitologist, I'd say that this is a conservative estimate -- that there are 1,400,000 cases a year, of which 1,399,988 go unreported.

And cooking doesn't destroy the prions that cause CJD, so that's irrelevant to the discussion.

My bullshit alarm is still ringing.
posted by solid-one-love at 8:39 PM on October 2, 2006


I only mention CJD because it's another example of a disease that's not as rare as its official estimates make it out to be. It's not transmitted by eating pork.

For diseases to make it into the official CDC count, the diagnosis has to be pretty iron-clad; often nobody has the funds or equipment to do this. This introduces bias into the CDC numbers.

Also, I've been working at large, prestigious university medical centers all my medical career; unusual cases are referred to these types of hospitals from literally all over the world, so this introduces some bias into the cases I see, and I'm aware of this. However, I stand by my experience: to say trichinosis is eradicated, or nearly so, is simply contradictory to what I've observed over the years. I've even seen a case where the worms encysted in a growing fetus, causing major deformations and stillbirth.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:51 PM on October 3, 2006


On the off chance that someone is still reading this thread, I heard this news story about trichinosis on NPR this morning. While I am not as conservative in my approach to food safety as ikkyu2, he is definitely right that food-bourne illness is a bigger problem than many people realize.
posted by TedW at 6:17 AM on October 6, 2006


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