This is another topic that I am rather passionate about; pink pork! We have been trained for generations to shun pork that has not been cooked to a uniform dull gray. Please stop.
First of all, even the US government has come around to agreeing that that overcooked pork is nonsense. In the summer of 2011 the FDA officially revised its food safety guidance and declared that pork which has been cooked to an internal temperature of 145F and allowed to rest for three minutes is perfectly safe for consumption. This lowers the previous guidance by a full fifteen degrees from 160F (which is still in effect for ground pork products).
Make sure you get this right and buy an accurate and fast digital thermometer. The one I have linked to costs less than $20 and gives a reading in 5 seconds.
The first step to overcoming our fears related to pink pork is to understand where that fear came from. I will talk about pork specifically to start and then about meat in general. The initial prohibition against pink pork (or even pork at all for some religions) was related to the fact that pigs are omnivores; they will eat anything. To the point, if a pig can find a rat it will eat it. This makes pigs highly susceptible to infection from rodent borne parasites, the trichnia worm in particular. If a person ate pork from a pig that had been infected with the trichnia worm they could develop a very nasty parasitic infection known as trichinosis. To make sure the parasite was killed before consumption it became standard for pork to be cooked to at least 165F. If you are interested in learning more about trichinosis the Center for Disease Control has a great write up.
Fast forward to today and you get one of the few benefits of our “factory farm” approach to modern meat production. Commercial pig operations keep their hogs under highly controlled (albeit confined) conditions which simply do not allow them to eat rodents and become infected. The probability of a piece of commercial pork (at least in the US) being infected with trichnia worms is now ridiculously close to zero. How close to zero? Well, close enough that the FDA says it’s okay not to worry about it anymore.
There are occasionally cases of trichinosis still reported in this country. These cases arise from consumption of undercooked meat from wild hogs, poorly raised small farm hogs and meat from another omnivore, bears.
A second fear we inherently have in eating undercooked meat is food poisoning from bacterial pathogens. Is this concern still real? Absolutely. If you eat undercooked dirty meat you run the risk of food poisoning. Please realize though that a critical factor is contaminated meat. The muscles of an animal are inherently clean; they get contaminated during processing. Meat that has been minimally processed is infinitely cleaner than highly processed meat.
Consider a piece of meat such as the tenderloin; it is a whole muscle that is removed from the animal and vacuum wrapped. There really isn’t much chance for contamination and if any is present it is on the surface of the meat. As the surface of the meat is exposed to the highest heat during cooking, any surface bound pathogens will be thoroughly destroyed. Contrast this with a pile of pork trimmings which have been sitting around for a day and are then processed through a meat grinder and made into sausage. Every single portion of the sausage meat is now potentially contaminated. Am I going to cook my sausage to 165F; you better believe it!
Get on board and help start the pink pork revolution. While there is still a case for cooking ground pork products to high temperatures the need does not exist for pork tenderloins. Let’s congratulate the FDA on giving some good advice.