Growing up, the answer to “Can pork be pink?” was an absolute no. The only pork we ate was gray, tough and chewy. That’s not a knock to my mother’s cooking; she followed the guidelines established at that time, cooking pork to the safe temperature of 160°F. Sadly, that “safe” pork was also overcooked.
Luckily for pork lovers, the United States Department of Agriculture—the organization responsible for determining minimum safe food temperatures—revised their recommendations in 2011. (See the list of food-safe temps.) Now, pork is safe to eat when it reaches 145°F. The lower temperature means your pork will be juicy, tender and delicious, but it may also have a hint of color.
So, is pink pork safe?
In short, yes! We used to be afraid of pink pork because of a parasite known as trichinosis, but the risk of contracting it is virtually nonexistent these days. Like beef, pork temperatures are designed to cook the meat long enough to nix E. coli, which means it may have a little color in the middle.
How do you know when pork is done?
The best way to know when pork is finished cooking is to use a meat thermometer. Sure, you can do a poke test or probe it with a skewer to see if the juices run clear, but these methods don’t tell you for sure that your meat has reached a safe temperature. (Our Test Kitchen swears by the Thermapen Mk4. Get your own here.)
After you let the meat rest for at least 5 minutes, slice into it; it should be pale white with a hint of pink. That color doesn’t indicate anything nefarious—at 145°F, your pork is at a “medium rare” temperature. You would expect to see some pink in a medium rare steak, so don’t be surprised to find it in your pork chops!
If the pink color freaks you out, you can continue cooking it until it reaches 155°F. It will still be tasty, but it won’t be quite as juicy. Cook it much past this point, and you’ll want to serve it with a good sauce to cover up the dry bits.
What about ground pork?
It’s never OK to undercook any ground food products, like pork, beef, veal or poultry. Grinding meat introduces air into the mix along with potential bacterial contaminants, so it’s safest to cook ground meat to 165°F.
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