A bit of pink in pork appears to be OK after all.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service will announce Tuesday that it has lowered its temperature recommendation for cooking pork to 145 degrees. That's a change from the agency's longstanding guideline and means pork will be held to the same standard as beef, veal and lamb.
For chefs, it means the USDA has sanctioned what already was common practice.
"I'm glad they have the sense to make that change," said Rob Weland, a chef at Poste Moderne Brasserie, an upscale restaurant in Washington.
Weland said he has always cooked pork to the lower temperature because chefs knew it was safe and the meat clearly tastes better. But he said it could take years for backyard grillers to adjust to the change.
"People have been taught this for generations and it's going to take a long time to get this removed," he said. "It will be good for the next generation not to be so fearful so they can enjoy pork in a way they may not have been able to in the past."
With its lower temperature recommendation, the USDA also called for letting the pork rest for 3 minutes after removing it from the grill or oven. The meat's temperature will remain constant or rise during that period, killing any pathogens.
"With a single temperature for all whole cuts of meat and uniform 3-minute stand time, we feel it will be much easier for consumers to remember and result in safer food preparation," USDA Under Secretary Elisabeth Hagen said in a statement.
Ceci Snyder, vice president of marking for the Des Moines, Iowa-based National Pork Board, said restaurants are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has allowed the lower cooking temperature for a decade.
The USDA made the change after several years of research and talks with producers and food safety experts. Producers proposed the change in 2008, based in part on new production methods that reduced the risk of pathogens, Snyder said, citing improved feed and housing methods.
Dr. James McKean, associate director of the Swine Industry Center at Iowa State University, said 145 degrees is higher than the kill temperature for bacteria and parasites that could make people sick.
He said one important change has been to move hogs inside, reducing their exposure to wildlife, including birds and rodents that could carry disease.
"As we've moved pigs inside, put them in bird proof buildings and applied rodent control, the incidence of (diseases) have dramatically reduced over the past 40 years," McKean said.
"I believe, based on research, 145 degrees is a safe temperature," he said.
Like Weland, the Washington chef, Snyder said it would take time before people feel comfortable eating pork with a touch of pink.
"Those myths die hard," she said.
Despite the new recommendation, ground meats must still be cooked to 160 degrees and all poultry products must be cooked to 165 degrees.
Snyder also said it's important to use a digital thermometer, placed in the thickest part of the meat, to ensure it's properly cooked.
Noah Rose, a chef at the Blue Water Grill in Grand Rapids, Mich., said he welcomed the change from a practice he thought led to ruining the meat's flavor.
"This is a step in the right direction," Rose said.