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Ask Tufts Experts August 2009 Issue

Q: In your May issue you illustrated the “radura” sign for food treated by irradiation. A caterer told me all pork is irradiated to prevent trichinosis; that is why it can be served when the meat is still pink inside. However, pork sold in grocery stores does not have this sign on it. Is it true that pork is safe to eat when cooked this way? I was taught to cook pork until it was gray inside.

Answer :  You might want to switch caterers. Trichinosis is caused by ingestion of the Trichinella spiralis parasite, also known as trichina. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), “Irradiation has been approved for use on pork by FDA and USDA/ FSIS in low-doses (to control trichina). Treated pork would not be sterile and would still need to be handled safely. Trichinella could be alive but would be unable to reproduce. Packages of irradiated pork must be labeled with the irradiation logo as well as the words ‘Treated with Irradiation’ or ‘Treated by Irradiation’ so they would be easily recognizable at the store.” So it’s not true that all pork has been irradiated, and pork that has been irradiated must bear the “radura” sign plus this labeling.

That doesn’t mean, however, you need to cook pork until it’s gray inside. Meat color, in fact, is not a reliable indicator of temperature and food safety; it’s better to invest in a good meat thermometer. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend cooking to 170 degrees to prevent trichinosis, the USDA states, “Much progress has been made in reducing trichinosis in grain-fed hogs, and human cases have greatly declined since 1950. Today’s pork can be enjoyed when cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.” That temperature—at which pork might still appear slightly pinkish—is also hot enough to kill foodborne bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. To learn more about pork preparation and safety, see www.fsis.usda.gov/Factsheets/Pork_From_Farm_to_Table/index.asp.

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