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Food Mythbusters: Is Undercooked Pork Really Bad for You?

Food Mythbusters: Is Undercooked Pork Really Bad for You?

Can you eat raw or undercooked pork? Tradition has it that pork must be eaten over cooked: the myth we're exploding is one of the most deeply rooted ones.

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Imagine this delicious mouthful of steak tartare. Lean meat with just a hint of fat to make it velvety, the right mix of spices and extra virgin olive oil for a fruity note. Delicious, isn’t it? And if I were to tell you that the meat is undercooked pork?

I know, you have opened your eyes wide in horror, because tradition has it that pork must be eaten cooked. Well cooked. Over-cooked even. So, we are used to eating roast and braised pork sliced finely to disguise the fact that it tastes like sawdust. The best we can hope for is a barbecued steak but heaven help us if it looks pink when we cut into it. But is it really not possible to eat undercooked pork or even raw?

You are in for a surprise because the myth we are about to explode is one of the most deeply rooted ones. Indeed, the moment has come to prove it.

Can you eat raw pork?

First of all, we need to know why undercooked pork should worry us. The threat in question is called Trichinella Spiralis, a worm parasite also of humans. Without going into the disgusting details, if pigs eat scraps of meat containing the larval cysts, its meat will be infected as a result. And at this point, if eaten undercooked, it becomes dangerous for human beings as well. From this brief description, I am sure you will have noticed something strange: pigs that eat meat!

In actual fact, swine used to be fed on anything available and, in truth, this still happens in the case of some domestically reared animals. If, on the other hand, pork comes from industrial pig farms using modern nutritional systems and fodder, Trichinella Spiralis will just be a bad recollection evoked in the stories recounted by our grandparents.

Just consider this figure which puts the question into perspective: between 2002 and 2007 there was an average of just 11 cases of people being infected by this worm in the entire United States. We are talking about 0.0000036%, less than any known rare disease!

Still dubious? Ask the butcher

Does this mean that when some would-be TV expert looks disgusted in front of a pinkish pork cutlet, you should just dismiss the matter with a shrug? For once, the answer is yes. Also because lightly cooked and undercooked pork has quite another flavor.

If, on the other hand, you are still dubious, your best bet is to seek out a pork meat whose source is guaranteed. Many butchers offer their customers certificates of traceability, which makes it easy to identify the pig farm that has supplied it. A phone call, or even a visit in the case of the more scrupulous among you, will provide sufficient reassurance as to the fodder employed and the sanitary inspections carried out on the meat.

Eating undercooked pork: some advice

And once you have decided to take the big step, well, you are spoilt for choice. Our advice, however, is to go about it gradually and to cook your roast slightly less than you would normally do. You know when you carve a saddle of pork and hear that detestable sound similar to a blade slicing a piece of rubber? To avoid this happening, instead of cooking it as usual for an hour (per kilo) at 200 °C, do not exceed 40 minutes. Then just get a load of that extra flavor.

Experiment gradually with other cuts of pork, for instance, with steak cooked in the same way as beef, until finally daring to go as far as the most audacious gourmets: bite-sized pieces of raw sausage meat. Obviously, in this case you have to be certain of the origin and quality of your product, but once this is assured, enjoy this great tasting experience with eyes shut.

  • Gym Hub said on

    Whats going on with all these new cases of broken homes? I used to believe that divorce rates were caused by reasons of financials, low-education, drug and alcohol abuse, compulsive gambling behavior, secret dates and other social ills that affect the institution of marriage. But what does pork consumption (eating meat) have to do with people getting out of a relationship.

    “The pig is the most shameless animal on the face of the earth. It is the only animal that invites its friends to have sex with its mate. It feels no jealousy. And among people who consume pork, the practice of wife swapping and other forms of promiscuous behavior is common.” You are what you eat. Essentially, if you are going to eat pig, you are going to act like one. Leave the “pork me” menus alone.

  • StevePepper said on

    Well you may have a point about Trichinosis In the US these figures appear to be valid. I'm doing a webinar tomorrow on this and I'm going to be doing some research in the UK.

    Doesn't stop other pathogens being present and being a problem but the latest scare in the UK is for HepatitisE, which requires about 20 minutes at 71oC to kill. This pork wouldn't be pink at this temperature so I think like my duck and beef burgers I'll stick to playing it safe and have them thoroughly cooked, succulent or not.

    Steve Pepper FRSPH, MIH, ACIEH

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