Some foods, like certain fish and seafood, can be enjoyed raw when prepared safely — though pork is not one of these foods.
This article explores the risks and side effects of consuming raw or undercooked pork and provides some tips to keep you healthy.
Is eating rare pork safe?
Unlike a steak, which can be eaten without being fully brown on the inside, pork that’s bloody (or rare) on the inside should not be consumed.
This is because pork meat from pigs is prone to certain bacteria and parasites killed in the cooking process.
Thus, when pork isn’t cooked to its proper temperature, there’s a risk that those bacteria and parasites will survive and be consumed. This can make you very sick.
One parasite found in pork is Trichinella spiralis, a roundworm that causes an infection called trichinosis, also known as trichinellosis. Other animals, like wolves, boars, bears, and walruses, can also be carriers of this roundworm.
Eating rare or raw pork also puts you at risk of certain tapeworms, Taenia solium or Taenia asiatica, entering your digestive tract and reproducing. These lead to infections like taeniasis or cysticercosis.
Thus, eating rare or undercooked pork is not considered safe.
You should always cook your pork to the appropriate temperature to diminish the risk of developing these infections.
Summary: Eating raw or undercooked pork can make you sick and risk you for parasites like roundworms or tapeworms. These are typically killed in the cooking process, so it’s crucial to cook your pork thoroughly.
Symptoms of eating contaminated pork
Symptoms of trichinosis can emerge within 1 to 2 days of consuming the contaminated, undercooked pork — but may not show for up to a week after ingestion.
Once the larvae enter your digestive system and begin to reproduce on days 5 to 7, you may experience gastrointestinal upset, with symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and abdominal cramps.
Then, a week to several weeks after ingestion, the larvae burrow themselves into muscle and intestinal walls.
Symptoms like a high fever, muscle ache, light sensitivity, eye infections, facial swelling, rashes, headaches, and chills are common in this phase.
Trichinosis can sometimes lead to more serious complications, affecting the heart or the brain. While these complications are rare, they can be fatal. Most will recover from trichinosis in about 8 weeks with adequate medical treatment.
On the other hand, tapeworm-related infections like taeniasis or cysticercosis are a bit trickier to diagnose, as tapeworms don’t cause immediate symptoms and often go unrecognized.
Tapeworms can be detected about 2 to 3 months after ingestion of contaminated meat by means of a series of stool samples.
If symptoms of taeniasis do develop, they usually include:
- unexplained weight loss
- digestive problems
- irritation around the anal area
- blockage of the intestine
However, if you suddenly experience seizures, this is one of the symptoms of cysticercosis. This means the tapeworm has traveled to other body areas like the brain, eye, or heart.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, seek prompt medical attention.
Those with a compromised immune system should be especially vigilant about following food safety guidelines and cooking pork to an appropriate temperature.
This includes those who are pregnant, undergoing cancer therapy, or on certain medications which suppress the immune system.
Additionally, people living with HIV, AIDS, diabetes, or those who have received an organ transplant should be especially careful about where their food is coming from and that it’s being properly prepared.
Suggested read: What is cross-contamination? And how to avoid it
Summary: Symptoms of trichinosis can include nausea, abdominal cramps, and, later, muscle pains, facial swelling, and high fevers. Tapeworms may not cause symptoms but can make you sick and cause sudden seizures.
Changes in practices
Due to improved agricultural practices in the United States, Canada, and Europe in the last several decades, developing trichinosis has become rare.
In fact, from 2011–2015, an average of 16 cases of trichinosis were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States each year.
Worldwide trichinosis estimates are much greater — at 10,000 cases yearly — most stemming from China and Southeast Asian or Eastern European countries.
Pork-related tapeworm cases are harder to discern, but globally it’s estimated that 28,000 deaths per year can be attributed to these parasites.
However, it’s worth remembering that practices in the United States are still evolving.
On October 1, 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it would reduce the number of its inspectors on site and allow pork manufacturers to inspect their pork products themselves. These measures went into effect just 2 months later.
Previously, only government inspectors could determine which pork products looked safe enough to be sold to the public.
While it’s too soon to understand the effect of this key change, it could represent less oversight. Therefore, thoroughly cooking your pork remains crucial.
Summary: Changes to agricultural practices over past decades in the United States have made pork safer to eat. However, these have recently changed, allowing for less oversight. Either way, it’s still important to avoid eating undercooked pork.
General tips to keep you safe
You won’t be able to tell if your pork is infected with Trichinella spirals or pork tapeworms just by looking at it since these larvae are microscopic. Therefore, the best defense against trichinosis is cooking your pork thoroughly.
Suggested read: Is it safe to eat raw salmon?
Trichinae is killed at 137°F (58°C), while tapeworm eggs and larvae are killed between 122–149°F (50–65°C).
One study found that pork tapeworm eggs and larvae could be killed at a lower temperature of 122°F (50°C) for roasts that bake over 15–20 minutes, but higher temperatures of over 149°F (65°C) were needed for dishes with ground pork mixes.
In the United States, experts recommend cooking pork until its internal temperature reaches 145°F (63°C) for chops, steaks, and loins. For ground pork, organ meats, or ground meat mixes, cook to at least 160°F (71°C).
Whether it’s a loin or ground pork, you should let the meat rest for 3 minutes before consuming it. This allows the meat to continue to cook and rise in temperature.
When cooked to 145°F (63°C), you may notice the white meat has a hint of pink as you slice into it. According to the revised guidelines from the USDA, this is acceptable.
You should use a calibrated thermometer to take the temperature of your meats and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Proper food handling is also really important. This means that handwashing is imperative while you cook, as is using clean drinking water to wash off cutting surfaces, dishes, or utensils.
You can learn other safety tips for handling food at the USDA’s site.
Summary: Cooking your pork to a safe temperature is crucial to avoid infection. While pork loins, chops, and steaks should be cooked to 145°F (63°C), ground pork should reach at least 160°F (71°C). Allow your meat to rest for 3 minutes before eating.
Consuming pork that is raw or not thoroughly cooked is inadvisable due to potential risks. The meat might contain parasites such as roundworms or tapeworms, which can lead to foodborne diseases like trichinosis or taeniasis.
Though infrequent, trichinosis can result in severe, sometimes deadly complications, particularly for those with weakened immune systems who need extra precautions.
Even though enhancements in farming techniques have lessened the likelihood of certain infections, handling food appropriately remains crucial and ensuring your pork reaches the recommended cooking temperature. By doing so, you can prepare a pork dish that is tasty and safe for consumption.