If you want to know if pork can be pink, you’ve come to the right place!
In this TheGrillingDad.com guide, you will learn:
- Why most people avoid pink pork
- The current USDA guidelines to cooking pork
- And much more!
It is widely believed that if there is visible pink left in the pork, it is unsafe to consume.
This is a common misconception! There are many factors that determine the safety of eating pork.
Visible pink left in the meat, should not be the only deciding factor. I am going to tell you how to determine whether your pork is safe to eat when pink, and how you should reach this conclusion.
Some things to consider may include:
- Is the pork raw or have you already cooked it?
- Is it fresh, or has it previously been frozen?
- What cut of pork are you cooking?
- Has the meat been cured prior to cooking?
- Are there any additives that might have contributed to the pink color?
All pork is not safe to eat when still a bit pink, but I can give you some pointers that will help you decide for yourself.
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Can Pork Be Pink?
Pork can be pink and still be safe to eat. While some cuts of pork can be eaten with some pink, others, like ground pork and sausage, need to be cooked longer to be safe to eat.
It is best to cook your pork to temperature instead of relying solely on the color of the meat.
Why Would You Avoid Pink Pork?
Most people have been taught that if the pork is visibly pink, it could make you sick. This is due to the risk of Trichinosis (or Trichinellosis), a food-borne disease caused by a microscopic roundworm parasite called Trichinella.
It was widely believed that this parasite could be found in swine meat, so it was previously recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture that pork be cooked to an internal temperature of 160- degrees Fahrenheit to kill this bacterium.
To reach this internal temperature, pork is often cooked until it is white or gray/brown. This can lead to the meat becoming tough and dry.
Intramuscular pork cuts often contain lower fat content than other meats, so it is harder for the pork to retain moisture throughout the cooking process.
We are used to eating pork that is this tougher texture, so it can seem undercooked to us, if it is not overcooked.
In recent studies, the number of cases of Trichinosis in the United States is fewer than 16 cases per year, on average. Most of these infections are due to consuming game meat.
The advances in modern farming practices combined with the strict guidelines on the processing and storage of meat have drastically decreased the risk of contracting a parasite when eating pork.
All this to say– you are more likely to get sick from eating deer you have killed while hunting than you are to get sick from eating a pork chop you purchased from your local grocery store.
So, fear not! You do not have to grill that chop or butt until it is tough and rubbery. You too can enjoy moist, flavorful pork.
What Are the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Current Guidelines on Safe Pork Consumption?
In 2011, the USDA modified its guidelines regarding pork. It was newly recommended that pork reaches an internal temperature of 145- degrees Fahrenheit, as opposed to 160- degrees, to be considered safe to eat.
Pork Cooking Temperatures (USDA)
The meat should also rest for a full three minutes after cooking. During those three minutes, the USDA advises that the temperature will remain constant or rise, which ensures that any bacteria or pathogen is eliminated. It will also help the meat remain moist and flavorful.
This guideline does not apply to ground pork, however. Ground pork should still be cooked to an internal temperature of 160- degrees.
This is because there is a much higher risk of contamination with bacteria throughout the grinding process. An animal’s muscles are generally considered to be sterile, however, ground pork may include meat that is harvested from several different cuts of pork, as opposed to one area.
The ground meat could come into contact with bacteria such as salmonella or staphylococcus and become contaminated as it is processed and packaged on several pieces of machinery.
What Are Some of the Reasons Pork Might Be Pink?
Certain types of pork are cured prior to cooking. Curing is a process of food preservation that involves the use of salt, sugar, and nitrates or nitrites.
This process helps the meat to retain flavor and can lengthen the shelf-life of the meat. Cured ham and cured pork chops will remain pink even after cooking thoroughly, due to the additives.
Certain spices and rubs can lend a pink tinge to meat, as well. You don’t want to overcook meat that you have seasoned to perfection, so keep in mind what you have marinated, brined, or rubbed on the pork beforehand.
Why Shouldn’t I Always Cook Pork to 160- Degrees to Be Safe?
If you insist on bringing all pork to the internal temperature of 160 degrees, you will end up overcooking a lot of your meat.
Overcooking pork can cause it to become dry and unpalatable. It can become stringy and not as enjoyable, and with the rising cost of meat, you do not want to ruin a delicious meal.
Pork often has a lower intramuscular fat content, which means it will lose moisture throughout the cooking process. This is what causes the meat to be dry.
Brining or wrapping your pork before cooking can help it retain moisture, but cooking it to an internal temperature of 145- degrees will ensure that it is safe to eat AND not overcooked.
How Do I Check the Temperature of Pork?
Pork safety is measured by the internal temperature of the meat. The color of the meat is not an accurate indicator of its safety.
A food thermometer should be placed into the thickest part of the meat and allowed to rest for a minimum of 3 minutes. You should decide whether to cook the pork longer based on this temperature reading as opposed to the way the meat looks.
Always go by the internal temperature of the deepest part of the meat. The USDA states that Trichinae parasites and bacterium are killed when they meet certain internal temperatures.
Reaching 145- degrees renders intramuscular cuts such as loin roasts and chops, safe, while 160- degrees guarantees the safety of ground pork and sausage.
Certain cuts of pork, such as thicker and fattier chops, can have a pink tinge after cooking and still be perfectly safe to consume.
The main aim of cooking the pork is no longer to avoid Trichinosis, but to avoid salmonella from potential outside sources. According to the CDC, pork accounts for less than 10% of reported salmonella cases each year.
Fresh produce such as tomatoes poses a higher risk of contracting salmonella than consuming pork, but you should still follow the recommended temperature for the cut of pork you are cooking by always checking with a meat thermometer.
Should Pork Ever Be Rare?
Meat is considered to be rare when its internal temperature is between 120- and 125-degrees Fahrenheit. This is far below the recommended 145- degrees, so the risk of contracting an illness is high.
An internal temperature of 145- degrees will ensure that your pork is still juicy, but safe from bacteria.
There is no added benefit to consuming rare pork. Intentionally eating it undercooked can lead to infection from E. coli, salmonella, or trichinosis.
It is rare that you would contract any of these from one instance, but it is recommended to avoid the risk altogether.
Remember that pink pork and rare pork are not the same things.
The best method to measure the safety of meat is a food thermometer. Never base pork’s safety solely on the way it looks. If the pork registers above 145- degrees, it may still be pink, but is safe to consume.
How Should I Store and Use Pork Leftovers?
You should always refrigerate cooked pork leftovers within 2 hours of cooking. Dangerous bacteria can grow rapidly at room temperature.
Refrigerating promptly and reheating thoroughly are the keys to making sure the pork remains safe to eat after initially cooking.
Pork should be refrigerated for a maximum of three to four days, as refrigerating slows the growth of bacteria but does not eliminate it completely. Pork should always be reheated until steaming hot all the way through. Pork should be covered when stored in the refrigerator.
Related >> How Long Bacon, Ham, or Sausage Can Last in the Fridge
What Are Whole Muscle Cuts of Pork?
Pork is a meat that can come in many cuts and forms. Whole muscle cuts are safe to eat at 145- degrees.
These cuts can also be referred to as primal cuts.
These cuts include:
A cut of meat that comes from one of these areas and is not ground from multiple portions of the pig, is safe to eat at 145- degrees because the risk of cross-contamination is much lower than the risk with ground pork.
Ground pork such as sausage, contains meat harvested from multiple portions of the animal, that then must be processed and combined. This means that the meat will be on several surfaces before being packaged and stored, raising the risk of contamination.
Cooking ground pork to 160- degrees will ensure that any bacteria will be eliminated.
Final Thoughts On Pork Safety
In conclusion, pink pork can be safe to eat, as long as you monitor the internal temperature.
You want to always base your pork cooking on your meat thermometer, and not rely on your eyes to determine whether the meat is done.
The USDA says that primal cuts should reach an internal temperature of 145- degrees Fahrenheit, while ground pork products should reach 160- degrees.
Let your pork rest for a full three minutes after cooking.
Preparing all pork to 160- degrees may lead to dry, tough meat.
It may be hard to break old habits at first- most of us are so used to cooking pork until we no longer see that pink color. We may be afraid of the bacteria we were told is in the meat when it is still pink. Trust your thermometer!
Consider whether the pork is cured, and what spices or rubs may have added a red or pink color to the meat.
Pink pork and rare pork are not the same thing. Eating rare pork can raise the risk of contracting a food-borne illness such as salmonella. Always watch for 145- degrees or 160- degrees (at the thickest part of the meat), based on what type of pork you are preparing.
Refrigerate your leftovers within 2 hours of cooking. You can safely store pork, covered, in the refrigerator for up to four days. Always reheat pork to steaming before eating again.
Now that you know pork can safely be eaten with a little pink to it, I encourage you to practice grilling those pork chops! Brine that pork loin and smoke it!
You may find that your pork is more flavorful and moister than before, and this can open a world of possibilities with your meals.
If you want to learn more about grilling, check out these other helpful resources!