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May 19, 2005 09:12 PM

Cooking Pork to medium - What changed?

  • k

I went to a restaurant in Chicago last week, and ordered the pork. The waiter asked me how I would like my pork cooked. He reccomended medium. I was always under the impression that pork needed to be cooked well done. I took his rec and it was wonderful, but I couldn't help worrying the next day that the pork I ate was under cooked. What changed?

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  1. The way pork is raised and processed. Trichonosis is virtually unknown in today's commercially produced pork.

    I have a cousin who raises hogs. They're farrowed in one barn, weaned in the next, raised in the next and never touch their hooves to the ground. His hog barns are cleaner than many people's homes.

    1. We cook our pork medium because the risk of disease is very low and the pork is much tastier.

      We also make a point of buying a pig whose feet *have* touched the ground and frankly, organic pig is just better that way.

      1. As others have said, pork is much safer these days such that we don't have to cook the meat to death. Thank goodness! Just compare old cookbook recipes to modern ones and you'll see the difference. Now a little rosy and juicy is just fine. This may be different for pregnant women, children, or immuno-compromised individuals though. Also want to buy your pork from a reputable source or be fairly confident that the restaurant is doing so.

        That said, it is unusual to be asked doneness preference when it comes to pork, at least where I eat. I'm curious if they would have been agreeable to cooking the pork "rare" if a diner requested it? Anyone ever had rare-cooked pork? Sounds a bit risky, even for me.

        Anyhow, enjoy your medium-cooked pork and rest easy!

        4 Replies
        1. re: Carb Lover

          I ate raw pork in Germany when I was a student there in the '70s. All the Germans were eating it, and they laughed at me when I said it was dangerous. So, I tried it. It was delicious, and it didn't make me sick.


          1. re: Carb Lover

            The fact is, pork never had to be cooked to teeth shattering crunchiness. I too grew up never knowing pork was a white meat. Another poster used the figure 137 degrees F and I'll stick with my 141, but no known pathogen--usually single celled life forms--can live very long once that temperature is reached.

            Rare would be a bit of a gamble, CL, but as you so cogently point out, most people with intact immune systems have nothing to worry about. Thanks for another good post.

            1. re: DK

              As was previously mentioned, the caveat regarding pork is all about trichinosis. I am not sure that rare is any less safe than medium rare regarding this specific oranism. If the organisms are not dead medium rare, why would rare be worse?

              1. re: Karl

                If I had read further I would have had the answer. Sorry.

          2. Hi Keely-san,

            What changed? Well, a couple of things:

            The first is the modern feeding practices adopted for pork being raised for market. The pigs aren't "slopped" anymore. Rather, they are raised on quality-controlled feed. This greatly, greatly reduces the risk of pork passing along trichinosis.

            Secondly, (and, IMHO, the most important point) the realization that pork doesn't need to be cooked to the point of dryness to be safe is starting to be more readily embraced.

            Trichinosis, tape-worms, and other organisms perish once the internal temperature of pork reaches 137 degrees farenheit. This is well below the well-done mark that was burnt into our chops, roasts, and collective culinary conscious.

            So, enjoy your medium pork!!


            1 Reply
            1. re: Andy P.
              Eldon Kreider

              The issue with trichinosis was always due to feeding UNCOOKED garbage to pigs. This meant that pigs were eating some raw pork scraps that could contain trichinia, the organism that causes trichinosis. Starting in the 1950s many states banned feeding uncooked garbage to pigs. Meanwhile changes in garbage collection practices pretty well eliminated the feasibility of feeding garbage, cooked or uncooked, to pigs. Other developments in pork raising virtually eliminated feeding garbage in favor of more controlled rations. Trichinia in pork have been a minimal problem for 30-40 years.

              Bears and racoons were the other two major carriers of trichinia. Drastically reducing trichinia in pork has had the side effect of reducing trichinia exposure to bears and racoons when they raid garbage cans. Cooking bear and racoon to 141 or so is still a good precaution even though the risk is lower than it used to be.

              While trichinosis risk from pork has been minimal for some decades, the production of much leaner pork has increased the adverse consequences of over cooking. Finally, there was strong reason to overcome inertia that was preserving cooking rules that were totally out of date.

              I haven't seen anything in the organic production rules that would prohibit feeding garbage to organic pigs as long as the garbage was itself entirely organic. That pretty much means using only garbage produced on the same farm because even scraps from a restaurant using primarily organic produce and meat might have a few scraps of food that was not certified organic.

            2. Aside from realizing that 137-141F was sufficient to kill trichnosis, there is another reason: the pork has changed for the worse in that cooking it the old way will make new, leaner pork (fake pork, so far as I am concerned) inedible. Old, good, fatty pork could take the abuse heaped on it much better; now, we don't have the luxury. Pork got improved to death.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Karl S.

                it sure did. skinny pigs=tasteless pork

                1. re: petradish

                  The two of you are so right. Fat is where the flavor is and the health nuts have scared the unenlightened populous that fat and carbohydrates equal death. Moderation of all foods is the key, not their elimination.