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May 15, 2012 08:59 PM

Pork, and health risks in general

Here's a new article on how tapeworm infections from pork meat can lead to brain damage in humans (warning for the squeamish: medical photo of brain with tapeworm cysts).

To me it is a sober reminder of the risks that, as a home cook, perhaps haven't spent enough time to understand properly. I'm not very experienced at cooking meat, but I do know that the taste of overcooked chicken/salmon/pork leaves something to be desired.

For example I had been following some recipes to slow-roast salmon at 250F, ranging from 20 minutes to an hour. In fact there are a lot of recipes based on this temperature, or lower. But now in light of these articles I have no idea whether this style of cooking is safe.

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  1. Don't rely on time and temperature to cook roasts, use an instant read thermometer. The nematodes that grow to be either tapeworms or Trichinella spiralis are killed at 137 degrees fahrenheit. The chances you buying pork infected with either these days is quite slim. If you eat wild bear meat, that's another story.

    3 Replies
    1. re: John E.

      The OP's article is so focused on the manifestation of the disease, that it glosses over transmission routes, and only briefly mentions where and why it is common.

      The Wiki article discusses the transmission in more detail (see the Epidemiology section). As described there, commercially raised pork that you prepare yourself is a very unlikely source. In restaurants, the public health food handlers card is probably your best defense.

      1. re: paulj

        However I seemed to get from the source, ever so slightly, that this sort of thing is not common. I know the way to get a tapeworm is to walk barefoot in feces infected soil. The nematode can bury itself through the skin between your toes and get into your bloodstream that way. But in the U.S. not too many people are walking around barefoot in soil with human feces in it unlike in developing countries. Sanitation has more to do with the scarcity of these cases than either cooking pork to a high enough temperature or treating swine in the production process.

        1. re: John E.

          I think you're thinking of a hookworm.

    2. If you are uncertain, use a meat thermometer. Unless you cook something for hours, there's a good chance that the meat is hotter on the outside than inside.

      1. This wasn't a problem when nearly all pork was commercially raised. Yes, for the animals it wasn't (& isn't) a humane life, but commercially-raised pork was WHY it was possible to cook pork to the medium-rare stage without risking tapeworm, trichinosis, etc., etc.

        However, once "free-range" pork became all the rage, intermittent testing found that tapeworm, trichinosis, & other pork nasties were again rearing their ugly heads, because the pigs were picking them up in the wild.

        So, if you really MUST enjoy your pork rare/medium rare - make sure it's NOT organic/free-range/yadayadayada. Otherwise, cook it well, as your "forefathers" did.