The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

News Flash: FDA Says Pink Pigs Are Okay!

Okay, so you know the FDA has been forcing you to overcook your pork for, oh, the last million years or so, right? But no more! Rejoice, swine lovers, for the Food and Drug Administration has finally come to its collective senses and sanctioned something that most of us have already been doing for years; cooking pork to a lower temperature.

The new recommendation for whole cuts of pork is 145°F as measured with a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat. This reflects a significant lowering from the previously established 160° mark and will now result in a bit of (gasp!) pinkness showing up in “the other white meat.” (Oops! Sorry. I forgot. The people who push pork now want us to “Be Inspired,” so just pretend I didn't mention “the other white meat.”)

Anyway, as I said before, from restaurant pros to savvy home cooks, nobody has paid any attention to the 160° recommendation in many, many years. With the exception of the FDA, everybody else figured out long ago that the restriction was outdated and unnecessary and that it produced dried out, badly overdone pork. So why did the Federal Food Folks recommend it in the first place? That I can tell you in one word! Tradition! No wait! That was Tevye in “Fiddler On The Roof.” The FDA's word was trichinosis.

Once upon a time, illness caused by the larvae of the parasitic trichinella worm often present in raw or undercooked pork was a real cause for concern. Mild cases of trichinosis produce the usual unpleasant enteric symptoms of nausea, heartburn, diarrhea and the like. Severe cases – where the little buggers reach the central nervous system – can be fatal. But due to decades of vastly improved farming and processing methods, the incidence rate of trichinosis in the US is down to fewer than 40 cases a year, and those cases are generally attributable to ingestion of wild game. And besides, trichinosis bacteria drop deader than little hammers at 138°. To illustrate a case in point, there once was a little kid back in the early '60s who used to love snacking on raw bacon., his mother used to scream “trichinosis” every time she caught him doing it, but he persisted until he reached an age at which he realized for himself how disgusting the practice was. And still he survived without ever contracting the disease. That would likely not have been the case in an earlier time. (Please, whatever you do, realize that that was an anecdote and not an endorsement of eating raw bacon!)

The nutritional nature of pork has changed over the years as well. According to the National Pork Board, today's pork is fifteen percent leaner and twenty-seven percent lower in saturated fat than the pork products of twenty years ago.

There are a couple of caveats attached to the new guidelines. For one thing, the FDA now officially recommends something intelligent cooks already practice; allowing cooked meat to rest. The “official” rest period for pork cooked to 145° is three minutes. (Carry-over or residual heating during that time will likely result in a finished temperature of about 150°.)

Secondly, cooks and consumers should be aware that the new numbers relate only to cuts of whole pork. Ground pork should still be cooked to 160°.
And the FDA wants you to know that the changes only apply to pork. Safe cooking temperatures for other meats remain unchanged. For instance, you still need to cook poultry to 165°.

But if you're okay with a little pink in your pork, the government is now okay with it, too. No more hockey puck pork chops. The Fed says you can now safely enjoy those tender, succulent, medium-rare chops, tenderloins, and roasts you've probably already been enjoying, much to your grandmother's horror and chagrin. Of course, some people are never satisfied. Michael Symon, the “Iron Chef” with a pig tattooed over his heart, regrets that the FDA didn't lower the temperature another ten degrees. I'll bet he used to eat raw bacon when he was a kid, too.

One forty-five is in! So pig out!

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