For cooks and diners indoctrinated in the dangers of undercooked pork, the idea of eating it any way except well done is as unappealing as eating raw chicken. Yet, changes in the way pork is raised have brought it to the point of being no less safe than any other meat. If a pork roast is your favorite weekend meal, you can now enjoy it cooked until it's just pink in the middle.
Trichinella and Trichinosis
The reason generations of Americans have cooked their pork well-done is a small parasitic roundworm, known to scientists as Trichinella spiralis. If you have the misfortune to eat a piece of meat containing trichinella, its larvae will migrate from your digestive tract and take up residence in your muscles. Infection by the parasite is called trichinosis, and although it's rarely life-threatening it's far from pleasant and can cause crippling pain. Trichinella is common in hogs fed on scraps, a practice that's no longer used commercially. Since the 1970s, the parasite has been eliminated from commercial pork production.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service released new guidelines on cooking meat. As part of that round of revisions, the recommended safe cooking temperature for pork was reduced to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, the same as for other meats. For ground pork and other ground meats, the safe temperature remains at 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The new temperature standard still provides adequate protection against Trichina spiralis larvae, which are killed by temperatures of 137 degrees Fahrenheit and higher, as well as the bacteria that cause most other foodborne illnesses.
Pretty in Pink
Pork contains two different types of muscle, much like the light and dark meat in a turkey. The pale flesh of the loin and the darker pork of shoulder and leg roasts both retain a definite pink hue in the middle when they're cooked to the standard of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. This is normal, and the roast is perfectly safe to eat. If you're serving diners who are conditioned to expect well-done pork, and aren't comfortable eating pork roast that's visibly pink, reserve the outer slices for them. The outer few inches of a large pork roast will be well done before the middle reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
Avoid the Guessing Game
With a steak or a pork chop, experienced cooks can judge doneness by prodding the meat with a finger and judging how firm it is. That's not practical with a roast, because of its greater size and thickness. The only reliable way to ensure your roast has reached the correct temperature, without overcooking it, is to use a thermometer. Traditional meat thermometers and modern probe-type thermometers go into the oven with your roast, or you can take out the roast long enough to use an instant-read thermometer. Whichever type you use, it should be inserted into the thickest part of the roast and not be in contact with any bones.
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