Canada's hog farmers want to see the U.S. Department of Agriculture's updated view of the temperatures needed to cook whole cuts of pork also become the pork safety standard in Canada.
Mary Ann Binnie, manager of nutrition and food industry relations for the Canadian Pork Council, said last week on the hog industry-sponsored program Farmscape that Health Canada should follow USDA's lead.
The U.S. ag department on May 24 updated its recommendation for cooking any whole cuts of meat -- pork now included -- to 145 F (63 C), after which the consumer must allow the meat to rest for three minutes before it's carved or eaten.
A "rest time" is the amount of time a product remains at the final temperature after it's been removed from a grill, oven, or other heat source. During the three minutes after meat is removed from a heat source, its temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which destroys pathogens, USDA said.
The U.S. department said last month its new cooking suggestions "reflect the same standards that the agency uses for cooked meat products produced in federally-inspected meat establishments, which rely on the rest time of three minutes to achieve safe pathogen reduction."
"The key factor to consider when cooking pork is that you do not overcook and I think this information that has come out of the U.S. is very positive because for years consumers have been overcooking pork and it certainly is not necessary," Binnie told Farmscape's Bruce Cochrane.
Research in the U.S. found it "unnecessary to overcook pork or to treat it any differently than the other meats such as beef, lamb or veal," she said.
"Cooking temperature definitely will have an impact on the juiciness, the tenderness and texture and it's because when you cook for a long time you are drying the moisture out of the meat," she said.
The overcooked meat, she said, thus tends to be drier, tougher and less flavourful. The results of the U.S. research cited in USDA's decision are therefore "wonderful news" from the fresh pork industry's perspective.
However, she said, there have been lags in the past between USDA's recommendations and their acceptance at Health Canada. USDA dropped its recommended endpoint cooking temperature for pork to 160 F in 1986, but Health Canada didn't lower its own recommendation until the 1990s, Binnie said.
There is no food safety basis to justify a difference between how pork is cooked in Canada comapred to the U.S., she said, adding she hopes Health Canada will be "more expedient" in USDA's latest recommendation.
USDA noted its new recommendation does not apply to ground meats, including ground pork, beef, veal and lamb, which should be cooked to 160 F and do not require a rest time.
Also, the recommended safe cooking temperature for all poultry products, including ground chicken and turkey, remains 165 F.
Historically, it had been recommended pork be cooked "very well" due to the risk of trichinosis. Canada's provincial pork groups have noted on their consumer website PutPorkOnYourFork.com that trichinosis is no longer a risk in Canadian pork thanks to improved food safety practices and production methods.
"We now know pork can be cooked safely to 160 F/71 C or less, which produces a juicy and tender product," the website notes. "When cooked to this temperature, pork may still have just a hint of pink in the middle, for instance inside a cooked roast or very thick chop."