Pork has been viewed with suspicion for many years, although it is one of the most consumed meats in the world. About 50 pounds of pork are consumed in the US per person every year. While pork and pork products are often associated with fat, pigs have slowly been bred to have a better proportion of meat to fat, and in fact many cuts of pork are leaner than chicken. However, this very ratio of fat to protein can make it difficult to cook pork without rendering it dry and tasteless. The less time spent cooking, the better when it comes to maintaining the succulence of pork, but is it safe to eat pork that hasn't been cooked all the way through?
Pork and Illness
Pork can contain parasites and bacteria that can harm people. Safe handling, including thoroughly washing hands and surfaces that raw pork has come into contact with, will eliminate most of the bacteria, which is generally found on the surface of the meat. The meat itself does not need to be washed, as cooking the outside of the meat will kill any other bacteria that might be present.
However, some parasites, such as trichinosis, can also infect pork, and can be passed onto humans through consumption of undercooked meat. Trichinosis can cause symptoms ranging from those similar to the flu, to vomiting, muscle pains and heart problems, leading to death. Trichinosis is generally the danger that slightly pink pork is associated with, as it was once a common infection in domestic pigs. However, due to recognition of the disease, pigs are now fed and housed differently and infection rates have dropped drastically. Fewer than 12 cases were reported in 2001 in the US and most of those were from eating undercooked game meats.
Cooking Pork Properly
In order to ensure your pork is safe, use a meat thermometer. Ground pork should be cooked until there is no pink visible, and should reach a minimum temperature of 165F. However, the USDA recommends that solid pork cuts only need to reach an internal temperature of 160F to be safe, which will possibly leave the meat slightly pink, and the juices may run very slightly pink as well. This color might also vary due to the cooking methods and other added ingredients.
The same applies for restaurants. Ground pork should always be cooked all the way through, but pork cuts might be left slightly pink. They should never be served rare, but a small amount of pink will generally indicate that the meat has been cooked as little as possible so it wouldn't turn dry, but would also be safe to eat.
If pork is cooked to the right temperature, it is as safe as any other meat, whether it shows a small amount of pink or not. Pork can be dangerous if it is not prepared correctly. However, it can be a delicious source of lean protein and should not be avoided because of health concerns.