Thursday, February 28, 2013 / 12:00 PM
Q: For once and for all, is pink pork safe to eat or not? —Susie S., St. Louis
A: Well...Grandma would have said no. Pink and pork go together like gourmet food and Guy Fieri. Back in Nana's day, trichinosis (a parasitic disease) was occasionally contracted from consuming undercooked pork from ill-fed pigs. So that was the end of that: to be safe, the pork of my youth was all cooked to done, well-done.
Later, as porcine diets improved in this country, cases of trichinosis became rare, and about 20 years ago the pall was lifted and pink pork was deemed safe to eat, at least unofficially. Chefs followed suit and it was not uncommon to see a thick pork chop served with a uniformly rosy hue. That's how we did it in the 90's at Harvest restaurant, but it still it made some guests uneasy.
In 2011, the USDA officially declared that it was no longer necessary to cook meat—including pork--to well-done (160 degrees), that 145 degrees was sufficient, in effect sanctioning pink pork.
Then late last year, Consumer Reports reported a large sample of pork that contained an abnormally large amount of harmful bacteria (some of it antibiotic-resistant due to antibiotics often fed to pigs), with ground pork being especially insidious. The only safe thing to do, they concluded, was to once again cook pork to 160 degrees to ensure the bacteria was killed.
The circle is complete. What was old is new again.
My takeaway: If you like juicy pork, do some recon. Research the source. Although no guarantee of safety, responsible pig farmers generally raise healthier pigs. Or else be grandma....and cook the hell out of whatever mystery meat you end up buying.
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