Q: When we were eating at a national chain restaurant recently, I ordered pork, and the server asked me how I would like it cooked (medium rare, medium, etc.). They said we do not have to worry about getting sick from pork anymore because trichinosis is no longer a danger in pork. Is that correct? How should I order my pork cooked, and what should the internal temperature be when cooking it at home?
A: The waiter was right. The risks from pork now are just from home-raised hogs that might be fed food scraps, but that is rare. Most cases of trichinosis come from wild game — bear, elk, deer or wild hog. The risks from commercial pork are so low that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration recently lowered the recommended cooking temperatures for pork to match those for beef. That is, pieces of meat — roasts, chops, etc. — should be cooked to 145 degrees in the center of the thickest part of the meat.
Ground meats — whether beef, pork, veal or anything other than poultry — should be cooked to 160 degrees, and all poultry products in any form get 165 degrees.
For thin pieces — whether steaks, chops or hamburgers — a digital thermometer works best because only the tip has to be in the center of the meat. A dial thermometer needs at least 2 inches of the stem inside the meat to be accurate, and that can be a trick with a burger or pork chop. You can't trust color to show when the meat is done.
As for how to order your pork, that's up to you. Less well-done pieces are likely to be moister, but many people still don't like to see pink in the center. Try some out and see what you like.
Q: Years ago my mother got a set of recipes from the extension office for making homemade mixes. There was one for biscuits, another for sweet things, such as cakes or cookies, and I think one had oatmeal in it, too. We used them for years. Now I can't find them and am hoping you have them in your files.
A: Those recipes probably still do exist, but we are not distributing them or recommending them any more. In fact, we are recommending that people not try to make mixes like that at home. There have been a couple outbreaks of food poisoning that were traced to a homemade mix.
The problem probably would never have been recognized if not for the fact that the mix was used to make some goodies that were used at a picnic or big supper, so a lot of people got sick from them.
The authorities think that the contamination came from one of the ingredients, maybe powdered milk. Plain dry powdered milk won't let bacteria grow, but when it is combined with the other ingredients and the shortening, they might.
Some types of shortening have enough water that they might let bacteria grow even before the recipe is prepared. Add liquid in the recipe, for sure they'll grow. And for things like some cookies or cupcakes with short baking times, apparently the bacteria survived. Or at least the toxins that they produced in the dough or batter survived the baking.
It is so much safer to use commercial mixes, please do that. The cost savings are not worth a case of food poisoning.