Should Cooked Pork Be Pink? Yes and No.

So here's the question, Should pork still be "pink" after it's cooked? Am I straddling the fence by answering sometimes "yes" and sometimes "no"? My reasoning just might surprise you ... and I'd love to know yours, too. Please do chime in ...

Should Cooked Pork Be Pink? The straight skinny, including the safe temperature for cooking pork.

Should Cooked Pork Still Be Pink?
Well, Yes. And No. Both Answers Are Right!

So what do you think, is that pork tenderloin (photo, above) just "a little too pink" for your taste? Does it make you squirm? Or worry that the pork has been cooked to a safe temperature? Here's the story on whether or not pork should be cooked until pink.

First, the "YES" Answer.

THE NEW SAFE TEMPERATURE FOR COOKING PORK Back in 2011, the USDA lowered the "safe" cooking temperature for whole cuts (that's important) of pork from 160 degrees to 145 degrees plus a three-minute rest period (that is too).

Even before the USDA announcement, knowledgable chefs and cooks, including me, were already cooking pork to 145F (or even lower) for a long while, preserving pork's natural juicy tenderness. Maybe it was just me, but I was glad when the USDA made it official: It's just as safe to cook pork to 145F degrees plus a three-minute rest period as to cook it to 160 degrees. Source: FoodSafety.gov.

COLOR IS AN UNRELIABLE INDICATOR OF DONENESS Pork can be affected by two factors, a function of pH and cooking heat. First, there's "persistent pink" color when high pH pork stays pink even after cooked to a high temperature, the pink color can even become more pronounced after the pork is sliced and thus exposed to air. Second, there's "return to redness" or "color reversion" where well-cooked and vacuum-packed pork returns to a pink color even though it's been well-cooked. The bottom line? Beef doneness can be determined by color. But judging the doneness of cooked pork by its color just doesn't work. Even very pink pork can be safe! Source: Extension.org (a consortium of U.S. land-grant universities)

REMEMBER WHEN PORK WAS THE "OTHER WHITE MEAT"? Wanting to join the healthy-chicken parade and avoid the bad-red-meat bandwagon, the National Pork Council once dubbed pork the "other white meat". Color-wise, the slogan worked because pork cooked to 160 degrees is a pale, languid white-gray color. In contrast, pork cooked to 145 degrees remains decidedly pink. It's not "bloody" like rare-cooked beef but still, the pork's color can be described only as pink-pink-pink.

But then again, some times "NO" is the Right Answer.

OLD HABITS ARE HARD TO BREAK Many of us were taught that pork should be cooked long past the pink stage. So any time we encounter "pink pork," concerns about safely cooked pork take hold, we almost can't help it. This happened to me just recently when I cooked pork tenderloin for a casual family supper. I cooked the meat to 145 degrees. Intellectually, I knew this was the safe temperature for pork. But visually, it just looked "too pink". I worried that our guests would worry – and so I put it back in the oven to cook awhile longer, cooking out nearly all the pink color. That pork tenderloin? It was gobbled up!

So even if you "know" you're right that pork should still be pink after cooking, consider cooking pork past the pink stage to make your guests feel comfortable: better that than having them leave hungry!

Hungry for More Detail?

SO WHY WERE WE OVER-COOKING PORK SO LONG ANYWAY? Cooking pork to a safe temperature prevents the parasitic disease called "trichinosis" [trick-i-NO-sis]. Heat is the only way to kill this particular parasite, freezing doesn't kill it, low cooking temperatures don't kill it. Typically, most infections produce no symptoms at all or mild cases of nausea, heartburn, indigestion and diarrhea. Few infections occur in the so-called developed world (only 11 cases per year in the U.S. from 2002 to 2007) and these are caused by undercooked pork and by undercooked wild game. In a small bit of irony, there has been a recent upswing in cases as the back-to-the-land-movement means that more families are raising a pig or two. Source: Wikipedia

IMPORTANT DETAIL The 145-degree temperature applies only to whole cuts of pork, that's pork tenderloin, pork chops, pork roasts, pork shoulders, pork butts and other whole cuts. It does not, repeat, does not apply to ground pork. Ground pork should still be cooked to 160 degrees.

IS A MEAT THERMOMETER NECESSARY? To neither undercook or overcook pork, it's helpful to use a meat thermometer, this is my favorite digital meat thermometer, the one I've been using for many years. Be sure to understand your thermometer's requirements, mine needs to have at least two inches inserted into the thickest area of the meat. Be sure to avoid touching bone, fat or even gristle, these can distort the thermometer's reading.

TALK TO ME IN CELCIUS, ALANNA What is 145 degrees in Celcius? It's 63 degrees.

TALK "PINK PORK" TO ME

SO WHAT DO YOU THINK? Is your pork "pink" or are you still cooking it way past pink? Where's your comfort zone? What color is the pork in your corner of the world?


More Pork Thinking


Favorite Pork Recipes

(hover for a description, click a photo for a recipe)
Tropical Pork Tenderloin Perfect Thick Pork Chops Pork Chops & Rice Oven Dinner
Milk-Braised Pork Roast Twice-Smoked Ham Ham & Beans
~ more pork recipes ~

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via recipes@kitchen-parade.com. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. Follow Kitchen Parade on Facebook!





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What's the color of pork in my world, you ask? Ham colored. Butch, the steer, arrived in in my freezer yesterday and took over the entire place. There is no pork, other than a meaty ham bone destined for soup, in our future. Not until some of Butch is consumed. A lot of Butch, really. Oy.

Thanks, Alanna, I plan to go for pink pork next time I cook some.
 
Thank you for addressing this. I'm one of those people who would have been more comfortable with the pork you cooked longer. I've read the data on cooking it for less time but as an older person who grew up on pork cooked well done I have a hard time with cooking it to 145 degrees, 155 is more my number. And for the record, I like my steaks medium rare to medium, no raw beef for me either. I just wish I had access to the delicious pork of my childhood. Jeanne
 
Once pork is cooked (to 180 degrees -- despite what the trendy chefs claim of 160), it is and should be gray all the way through. Once it cools in the refrigerator, the inside portions may turn pink, but that is okay, as long as it was gray to begin with. It is often the portions close to bones that turn pink when chilled (but not always, sometimes it is just the deeper portions. This is how I was taught when I was raised - - by long time and very knowledgeable cooks.
 
Yes this so intelligent. Not.

Pork is well known for being one of the WORST meats with potential disease and parasite ridden issues. Next so called "chefs", laugh with me, will be saying you can eat chicken raw.

If you tell me it's better now than 20 years ago I'd call you an outright liar. I worked at an environmental lab for 5 years where pork farms had to be tested MONTHLY to make sure they were up to snuff.

I wouldn't touch a piece of pork done at 145 degrees if it was the last piece of food in the world.
 
Wow, folks are downright argumentative and weird. Eat some really bad food then, go on!! So many sources will tell you exactly what Alanna has said here. Take this page as one example: http://www.cheftalk.com/t/10483/pork-tenderloin
I cooked a pork loin roast last night and it was lovely but when I sliced into it: pink! pink! pink! My boyfriend who loves to char everything to a crisp before he eats it looked at me like I was crazy. I offered to cook his a little more so it would make him feel better. He reluctantly ate it all the while picking at it. I loved it though and was so proud of myself for not producing shoe leather. Maybe in the future we will find a happy medium. hee hee... see what I did there? :}
 
Leaving the pink for the cow, personally. As you say, old habits are hard to break, and I actually KNEW someone who got trichinosis — it was not just a fever, stomach upset thing. It Involved worms. Lots of them. I won't elaborate.
However, I thought I didn't like pork at all until I discovered that you don't have to cook it to death (it's already dead). I have two tenderloins I'm going to sear and roast, and I think 155 will be OK. As I live at high altitude (7,000 feet), cooking can be a game of chance, and resting times are almost silly because food NEVER arrives hot on the plate.
Off to experiment, but not with pink. I'll leave that for the carpaccio.
 
My thermometer can read 170 and if I see pink I will still think it's not done and not believe myself that it's safe to eat. So I let it cook a little bit longer get a little bit darker and they're still paying but its like 175 so I force myself to eat it anyway and still worry about it
 
I agree with you Alanna! I believe that it is safe if the USDA says it is safe. When I first started cooking "pink" pork, it was a little scary. The very first time I cooked to 145, my boyfriend and I poked at the tenderloin medallions and debated about whether we should eat them for a good 5 minutes and ended up microwaving it for a few more minutes until it looked more "done". After that, I did some more research and finally we tried it "pink". It is SO much more tender and juicy this way, we absolutely love it. We eat tenderloin cooked to 145 about once a month, and always end up wondering why we don't eat it more often.
 
I have cooked spare ribs soup and boil it for a while until tender and the color is still pink inside. how do you explain that? is there something wrong with the meat how it is handled or how the animal was fed with?
 
Anonymous ~ Hey there, I waited a bit to post and answer your question, I wanted to do some research. The short answer is -- pink color is NOT an indication of anything being wrong with the meat or how the animal was fed. I updated the post above, I suspect that your spare ribs are having a “persistent pink” or “return to redness” issue -- a function of pH and cooking heat. Hope this helps! How was the soup?!
 
To anynomus pork is raised different today pork tenderloin is excellent pink inside
 
To anonymous pigs are raised different today when you cook pork tenderloin pink inside it has a better flavor
 
I like it grey....even if the temp says 200*. The chops I cooked tonight were in the 190s and still slightly pink....we ate them, but for me, could have used a few more minutes.
 
I'm actually VERY glad to hear that the FDA says it's safe to cook pork to only 145 degrees. I'm old school and always had a problem with that "undercooked pork" mentality. I just couldn't serve it pink, thinking it would make someone sick. My husband hated my pork because it was always white and dry. Now I can serve it the way he likes it, without worry about him getting sick. Thanks!
 

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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna