Is pink pork safe to eat? (Factors that affect color)
Is pink pork safe to eat?
Yes, pink pork is safe to eat. When muscle meats, like pork, are cooked, they can still have a pink color even if they’re fully cooked and safe to eat. If fresh pork has been cooked to an internal temperature of 145 °F (63°C) or higher all the way through, it’s safe to eat. The pink color might be due to how it was cooked or certain ingredients used. (1)
Is pink pork deemed unsafe by consumers?
Yes. A common misconception among consumers is that pork must be thoroughly cooked until it turns gray or white throughout, often involving internal temperatures of 80-85°C. Many consumers hold the belief that pork with a pink interior is unsafe, while simultaneously desiring tender, juicy, and flavorful pork on their plates.
It’s worth noting that cooking pork to an internal temperature of 65°C has been shown to effectively eliminate any safety concerns related to Trichinella spiralis. Furthermore, roasts cooked to slightly lower internal temperatures (around 75°C) have been found to retain their juiciness and offer comparable flavor and tenderness to those cooked to 85°C. (2, 3)
What factors affect the color of pork meat?
The appearance of cooked meat is influenced by various factors, such as the quality of the meat itself and muscle pH. When it comes to safely cooking pork, it is important to reach a minimum internal temperature.
However, to ensure that the pork remains enjoyable to eat, it should not be overcooked. When meat is exposed to heat, the chemical reactions of oxygenation and oxi-reduction cause these forms to change, resulting in a color shift.
While beef typically transitions from red to pink to brown when cooked, pork changes from pinkish-red to a lighter shade of pink, tan, or white. Myoglobin, a protein found in muscle tissue, gives muscle foods their pink/red color. Different forms of myoglobin create different colors, such as purple (deoxymyoglobin), red (oxymyoglobin), and brown (metmyoglobin). (3, 4)
Does the pink color indicate undercooked pork?
No, when it comes to pork, the color can be deceptive. The color of cooked meat is significantly influenced by factors such as muscle pH and meat quality. Beef contains a higher concentration of myoglobin compared to pork, making it easier to distinguish myoglobin forms in beef, whereas the color changes in pork (shifting from red to purple to brown) are more subtle.
In pork, there’s a condition called “Pale, Soft, and Exudative” or PSE, where the meat becomes more sensitive to heat due to a quick drop in pH. This can cause the meat to brown prematurely when cooked. On the other hand, there’s also “Dark, Firm, and Dry” or DFD meat, which has a higher pH level. This higher pH protects the myoglobin in the meat, keeping it pink for a longer time than normal.
In my experience as a food scientist, the color of cooked pork can be confusing for both processors and consumers. It becomes even more intricate due to the presence of myoglobin in the meat.
When it comes to intact and ground meat, there are two other characteristics called “persistent pink color” and “return-to-redness.” These characteristics show a higher level of pinkness than what is typically desired for doneness. (4)
What are the risks of undercooked pork meat?
The primary concern associated with undercooked pork is the potential presence of harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, toxins, viruses, and parasites, which can give rise to various diseases and health issues. Notably, feral swine can carry more than 30 diseases and nearly 40 types of parasites, impacting the well-being of both humans and animals.
Many diseases that can be transmitted through food or water have the potential to pass from pigs to humans. Pork products are particularly vulnerable to bacterial spoilage, and pigs are recognized as natural reservoirs for numerous pathogens, presenting health risks to consumers.
Throughout human history, the most significant health threats related to pork consumption have been these parasitic infections. Regrettably, contemporary discussions on pork safety often overlook the public health implications of these pathogens and the substantial reduction in the risk of foodborne parasitic diseases that have been achieved. (5, 6)
What are the common diseases in pork meat?
Parasites like Taenia, Trichinella, and Toxoplasma have evolved with a carnivorous transmission pattern as a crucial or essential part of their life cycles. Their occurrence in meat from domesticated animals is entirely dependent on the exposures that occur on farms, and effective prevention can be accomplished through interventions before the animals are harvested.
On the other hand, the bacterial pathogens that pose the most significant concerns to pork safety, including Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria, and Yersinia enterocolitica, primarily inhabit the intestinal tracts of animals, rather than their muscle tissues.
The presence of these bacteria in meat results from contamination events that can happen at any point during the harvesting and processing stages, or even up until the meat is served on a plate. (6)
How to safely consume pork meat?
In today’s world, pork is considered safe to eat when it is cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 62.8 °C (145 °F). It is recommended to let the cooked meat rest for at least three minutes before carving or eating, especially if it’s pork steaks, chops, or roasts that were initially raw.
When making ground pork patties or mixtures like meatloaf, it’s important to ensure that they reach an internal temperature of 71.1 °C (160 °F). The same temperature, 71.1 °C (160 °F), is also recommended for cooking organs and a variety of meats such as heart, kidney, liver, tongue, and chitterlings.
Thorough cooking is essential for the safe consumption of pork. It helps eliminate parasites and bacteria that can be harmful. The good news is that pork production systems have improved, significantly reducing the occurrence of foodborne diseases caused by parasites like T. solium, T. spiralis, and T. gondii. (1, 6)
In this brief guide, we answered the question “Is pink pork safe to eat?”. We also addressed the risks of pork and how to properly cook it.
In my studies, I was able to uncover the common risks that pork meat used to have, and how to properly consume it. In my perspective as a food scientist, the color of pork meat is a poor indicator of doneness and the best way to ensure safety is through proper temperature cooking.
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U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety Website. Washington, DC. Fresh Pork from Farm to Table. 2019.
HOWE, J. L.; GULLETT, E. A.; USBORNE, W. R. Development of pink color in cooked pork. Canadian Institute of Food Science and Technology Journal, v. 15, n. 1, p. 19-23, 1982.
LIEN, R. et al. Effects of endpoint temperature on the internal color of pork loin chops of different quality. Journal of Food Science, v. 67, n. 3, p. 1007-1010, 2002.
HUNT, Melvin; ZENGER, Becky. Cooked color in pork. FACTS National Pork Board, v. 1637, p. 1-4, 2002.
YARDIMCI, Mehmet. Impact of Pork Consumption on Human Health. In: International European Conference on Interdisciplinary Scientific Researches.(July), Turkey, Ankara. 2020.
DAVIES, Peter R. Intensive swine production and pork safety. Foodborne Pathogens and disease, v. 8, n. 2, p. 189-201, 2011.