Why Pork Should Always Be Fully Cooked
Some people have their steaks medium rare. And some cook their lamb that way too. I have even heard of lamb tartar (raw lamb) in some parts of the world. Sushi grade fish can also be eaten raw.
But what about pork? I have never heard of anyone eating pork medium rare. No restaurant ever cooks pork chop medium rare. In fact, a server once apologize for the wait because pork chops take longer to cook.
Is there some scientific reason why pork chops are always fully cooked? To avoid beginner self-cooks from calling their parents asking advice on how to cook pork, and to settle arguments among spouses on how well pork should be cooked, the answer is that pork should always be fully cooked before eating. And yes, there is a good scientific reason for this.
Pork meat often contains pathogens and microbes that needs to be killed by cooking the meat thoroughly. And even still, some microbes may still exist. Read more about possible parasites in under-cooked pork here.
It is debatable whether beef, lamb, and other meats should be eaten medium rare. Some say with good reasons that they too should be fully cooked. Anyway, that debate is for another day.
Today, we are only talking about pork. And there is no debate about pork. Virtually everyone agrees that pork should be fully cooked. In fact, some cultures avoid eating pork product at all.
Pathogens in Pork
Hopefully you are not having dinner as you are reading thing, or at least not pork. Certain pathogens can be transmitted to humans when we eat pork products that are not well cooked. These include Trichinella spiralis which causes trichinosis and the hepatitis E virus. Other Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus and Listeria monocytogenes can also be present in pork as well as other meats.
The USDA writes that ...
"Pork must be adequately cooked to eliminate disease-causing parasites and bacteria that may be present."
and that it should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees, but that ...
"For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures."
Why is pork singled out, and not beef and lamb? That is because of the bio-similarity between pigs and humans. (Okay, that may sound a bit insulting).
Paul Jaminet of PerfectHealthDiet.com has a post The Trouble with Pork where he writes ...
"More than any other animal, pigs pass pathogens to humans."
Many of the same pathogens that infect pigs also infect humans. Swine flu is one such virus. Although much more rare in humans than in pigs. History has shown that pathogens can pass back and forth between the two species.
You can find various article snippets on PubMed relating to transmission of virus from pig to humans...
- "Pig liver sausage as a source of hepatitis E virus transmission to human" [source]
- "Immunocompromised patients should avoid eating insufficiently cooked game meat or pork products so as to reduce the risk of HEV infection and chronic liver disease." [source]
- "Our findings strongly support the hypothesis of HEV infection through ingestion of raw figatellu." [source] (Figatellu is a French dish consisting of pig liver sausage which are sometimes consumed raw)
Correlations of Pork Consumption
There is an statistical association between pork consumption and liver disease and multiple sclerosis. Although a correlation does not necessarily mean an causal effect. Some plausible mechanism may be due partially to the unhealthy omega-6 fat. But that does not explain the full extent. Pathogens in pork may be another contributing factor.
This may be why the association between pork consumption and diseases is stronger with fresh pork rather than processed pork (presumably because the processing of the pork kills more of the microbes).
The risk of disease is lower when there is greater consumption of fiber, which may suggest that fiber promotes healthy gut bacteria that enhances the guts protective immune system.
How to Decrease Risk of Pork Pathogens
So that leads us into ways for decreasing the risk of pork pathogens if and when we do consume pork.
- Cook pork thoroughly
- Consume fiber and other immune boosting foods
- Avoid parts of the pigs that has high viral loads such as the intestines, liver, and blood
- Avoid sausages that are often made from those parts (such as figatellu). And also avoid the Asian dish of "pig blood pudding".
However, some believe that even cooking thoroughly is not sufficient to kill all the pathogens.
Paul writes in his post ...
"Hepatitis E virus is not destroyed by casual cooking, smoking, or curing. It appears that meat must reach temperatures of 70ºC (160ºF) before viruses are inactivated; and it is possible that meat must remain at that temperature for some time, perhaps as long as an hour. Rare or medium cooked pork could contain active viruses."
So perhaps that best way to reduce pork pathogens is to not consume pork products at all.
Many cultures around the world have adopted the policy of not consuming pork while still able to consume other meats. Often this is for religious reasons and there are even reference to prohibition of pork in the Old Testament. But perhaps, these behaviors evolved because traditional people have known from experience of the link between pork consumption and diseases.