Can Pork Be Pink and Still Be Safe?

can pork be pink

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There is a common misconception that pork can only be cooked to a dry husk in order to be safe. This can lead people to believe that if they see pink, the meat must not be safe to eat. 

However, this isn’t true at all! 

Pork can be cooked pink and still be safe for consumption.

The answer to the question can pork be pink and still be safe can depend on a few factors. For example, is it raw or cooked? Is it fresh or has it been frozen for an extended period of time? 

We can’t definitively say that all pork can be safely consumed when they are pink, but we can give you some pointers!

Why is cooked pork sometimes pink?

There are a number of reasons your cooked pork might be pink. 

The most common reason is probably that you’ve undercooked your pork, but it’s certainly not the only reason.

It could also be an issue with how long you’ve cooked it for – overcooking any protein can lead to it turning grey or brown due to chemical reactions between amino acids on the proteins themselves as they denature during cooking.

Chemical differences in this reaction can lead to similar cuts of meat coming out more pink or browner even with the same cooking times and temperatures.

cooked pork tenderloin with a pink tint to it

It could also be the specific cut of meat you have. Pork belly, for example, is less lean than pork loin so it will have more myoglobin in it, increasing the chances that the meat will stay pink.

It could also be your cooking method itself. If you are grilling or searing the meat at a high temperature this can lead to some of the proteins denaturing too quickly before they have time to change color completely resulting in pinker meat. 

Why do people avoid pink pork?

One of the primary reasons that people avoid eating pink pork is due to trichinosis, a condition caused by parasites that were once common in domesticated swine in the United States. 

The best way to avoid trichinosis is to cook your pork until it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) which led to people assuming that all pork needed to be nuked or eating it would result in horrible catastrophic results.

However, advances in modern farming practices mean that fewer than 12 cases of trichinosis were reported annually in the US and most of those were from eating undercooked game meats. 

So you’re more likely to catch trichinosis from your undercooked bear meat than you are from pork.

The more commonly accepted reason that pink pork is usually avoided is that most people have grown up with the passed down and outdated understanding that only cooking it to 160°F renders the meat safe.

This, coupled with the fact that we’re unused to the texture of pork that hasn’t been horribly overcooked has led to us all ruining many a good pork chop or joint over the years.

What does the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) say on the matter?

What a lot of people don’t realize is that, in 2011, the USDA actually revised their pork cooking recommendations down from an internal temperature of 160°F to 145°F. 

At 145°F some of the pork in larger cuts can still be pink and the juices might have a pink tinge to them, but the meat is fully cooked and safe to eat.

grilled pork chops
Larger pork chops can have a pink tinge to them even if fully cooked.

The exception to this rule is ground pork, where the greater surface area and generally lower quality of the meat can lead to a greater risk of disease and should be cooked to 160°F.

In fact, pork is so safe that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recognized it as one of the safest meats to consume.

How do you cook pork safely?

The best way to cook pork safely is to use a food thermometer, as the color of the pork cannot really be used as an indicator. We here at Smoked Barbecue Source always suggest you use a meat thermometer to check how well cooked your meat is.

The meat can be pink but will still be safe if it has reached 145°F in its deepest part. 

A meat thermometer inserted into a pork cut
Make sure you insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the cut.

Information from USDA is that trichinae parasites are killed when they meet certain internal temperatures: 145°F for whole muscle cuts such as loin roasts or chops and 160°F for ground meats such as sausage, beef patties, etc.

The main aim here isn’t to avoid trichinosis anymore, but actually to reduce the chances of catching salmonella. That being said, pork only accounted for 6.2% of salmonella outbreaks tracked by the CDC, while “vine-stalk” produce like tomatoes accounted for 20.7%.

Once the meat has reached that temperature, it’s fully cooked and safe to eat, regardless of what color the meat is.

What are the downsides of cooking pork to 160°F?

One of the main issues with bringing all pork up to 160°F is that you’re going to consistently end up with overcooked pork. Overcooking pork results in dry, stringy meat that isn’t pleasant to eat. 

You’ll also more than likely you’ll end up with some burnt ends too, and not the good kind!

One of the additional problems associated with cooking pork is the lack of intramuscular fat to help keep things moist. It’s why pork so often turns out dry.

Raw pork tenderloin
The lack of intramuscular fat can result in dry, overcooked pork.

You can solve this problem with more complex methods like brining, wrapping, mopping, etc, or you could just cook your pork to a nice 145°F and enjoy moist flavorsome meat without any threat of salmonella or trichinosis.

Should pork ever be rare?

There is a big difference between rare and pink when it comes to pork. Pink is fine as long and the meat has reached a safe temperature for pork, rare can cause problems.

Pork safety starts with cooking the meat to 145°F as measured by a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, then allowing it to rest at least three minutes before eating. 

The general temperature range for rare meat is between 120°F and 125°F, which is well below that 145°F target.

Below 145°F, you’re running the risk of contracting an illness like Salmonella or E-coli, which can be life-threatening. Pork cooked to 145°F can still be perfectly juicy and succulent, so there’s no real benefit to taking that chance.

leftover pulled pork in a vacuum-sealed bag.
Vacuum sealing can help preserve leftover pork and save space in the fridge/freezer.

Pork leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours after being cooked. If you are not going to eat them right away, they should remain refrigerated until ready to be cooked thoroughly on a stovetop or grill. Refrigerate any leftover portions promptly because dangerous bacteria grow rapidly at room temperatures. 

When reheating foods that have been previously cooked, including those kept under safe conditions, always heat them thoroughly so steaming hot all the way through before serving again.

FAQ

Given the downsides of eating undercooked pork and the general confusion around what temperature pork should be cooked to, we’ve gathered together some of the most frequently asked questions and answered them for you.

What happens if I eat undercooked pork?

Eating undercooked pork can result in illness, such as food poisoning or trichinosis. Pork products that contain both meat and fatty byproducts (bacon, shoulder butt roasts) are the most likely to be infected with trichinae.

undercooked pork chops with a pices of butter on a wooden board
Eating undercooked pork can cause food poisoning.

In addition to the, admittedly rather small risk of getting trichinosis, eating undercooked pork can result in you becoming infected with a number of unpleasant bacteria. If you are not careful about how your meat is prepared, there’s a chance that the pork will contain both bacteria and parasitic worms.

Undercooked pork can cause food poisoning if it contains harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli or parasites like tapeworms or Toxoplasma Gondii.

Again, you’d have to be unlucky to contract any of these problems through one instance of eating undercooked pork, but they are common enough that we wouldn’t recommend you make a habit of it. 

Is pink pork the same as rare pork?

No, Just because your pork is pink doesn’t mean it is rare. As we’ve discussed, pork can be cooked to the recommended temperature of 145°F and still remain pink. 

Any cut of pork that registers less than 145°F is undercooked, regardless of what color it is.

Remember, the best guide for telling if meat is properly cooked and safe to eat is your digital thermometer, not your eyes.

Can I eat pork mince if it’s pink?

Unlike a cut of pork like a chop, pork mince is more likely to be exposed to contaminants and the larger surface area leads to greater bacterial growth. 

This means it should always be cooked until it reaches 160°F, regardless of how pink you want your hamburger to turn out.

Pink pork is safe to eat!

As you can see from our article, you don’t need to be over-cooking your pork anymore. There are plenty of safe ways to cook pork that will keep it from being too dry and tough. 

If you’ve been cooking your meat a certain way for years and have never considered pink pork, now is the time to change things up! You may be surprised how much better your meal turns out.

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