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Cooked Pork and the Flu

Posted Jan 06 2013 7:10am

I had decided earlier the incidence of the flu would be low in the US this year.  I was wrong.  There has been an early spike in the incidence of the flu that occurred in the southeast starting in mid-October.  This is very unusual for the flu as most of the time the highest incidence starts in the northeast and northwest and spreads across the rest of the country.  The timing was odd as well as normally the spike occurs in January and February.  I was struggling for an explanation and then this interesting thought struck me.

It was the Saturday before Christmas and we had gathered at my youngest daughter’s house to celebrate.  My daughter had just had a baby two weeks earlier and was stuck at home for Christmas because of the premature birth.  My other daughter and her husband and two children joined us as well.  What a great time.  My son-in-law decided to have pork tenderloin; roasted on his shinny new grill.  I love pork tenderloin.

As he started to cook he stated that it would not be long as the pork only needed to get to 145­­ 0F.  Having grown up on a farm where we slaughtered hogs every year I was alarmed.  Surely he understood the warnings in the Old Testament about eating pork to say nothing of the billions of Muslims that also have a prohibition against eating pork.  The reason, I believe, pork has historically caused disease when not being properly prepared.  He also had not been inside of the large slaughter houses that I have seen in Smithfield, VA and Tarheel, NC.  I inquired and was informed that the Government said that 145 degrees was high enough temperature for cooked pork.  I was tense.  It was his house and I did not want to insult him as he seemed very trusting of Government and it bastions of institutions and the scientist.

In came the pork and it was blessed and my mouth was watering as I will say it again, there is no better tasting meat than pork tenderloin.  I cut into the pork and there were the pink centers and that smell of pork that says, “I have not been properly cooked.”  I ate the side dishes, feigned swooning over a grandchild, and left the pork on my plate.  I love pork tenderloin.  As I rocked the baby boy to sleep, I whipped out my smart phone and sure enough in May, 2012 the USDA had changed the cooked temperature to 145.  It stated that expert chefs had always insisted that 145 was the ideal temperature for pork.  You know, I am one of those expert chefs when it comes to cooking pork and I like mine well done.  However, if pork is slow cooked on a grill or smoker, I am just fine with the temperature at 145.  But slow cooking means that the meat is held at that temperature for four to six hours which allows the proteins and fats to convert to that extremely pleasing flavor.  I have gotten up many mornings at four am to fire the hickory down to embers and start cooking the pork shoulders for consumption in the evening.  It usually takes at least eight hours by this method to allow the pork to develop to a proper delightful taste.  Pork roasted on a grill at 300 or above should not be eaten until the pork internal temperature reaches 170.  You have to be careful when using this fast cooking method as it is easy to dry the pork out.

I was struggling yesterday with why the flu outbreak had started in the southeast when that ‘light’ went off in my head.  A quick look at the temperature required to kill the flu virus and I found that most viruses die instantly at a temperature between 163 to 170 0F.  One source said that most flu virus could withstand a 145 degree temperature for thirty minutes or more.  A quick review of the USDA websites and the CDC shows that most bacteria die off at under 140 but for poultry, it is necessary to be sure that poultry reaches 165 so that viral contamination is properly controlled.  WHAT?  All other meats except poultry are required to reach a temperature of 160 according to the USDA.  How could the USDA come to the conclusion that 145 is okay for pork, but poultry must reach the temperature of 165 to make sure all the viruses have died.  Control against the bird flu but not against the swine flu?  Has our GOVERNMENT made the same mistake it made in scaring us out the sun for fifty years?  Swine have long been known to carry many types of viruses that can be easily transferred to people.

Nobody loves their pork better than people from the southeast.  If restaurants are now cooking pork quickly at higher temperatures, then eating pork at a restaurant may be like playing roulette with you health – some is virus free and other may not be.   The USDA and CDC say there is no danger of getting the flu from eating properly prepared pork or poultry.  Could twenty degrees difference in final cooked temperature be the cause of the flu outbreak this year in the Southeast?

Vitamin D will protect you from the flu.  However, when your exposure to virus is extreme, then your increased immunity can still be compromised.  Thank you son-in-law; informing me of the cooked temperature change by the USDA is the best Christmas present ever.  I am wondering now when I went for seven days without vitamin D and contracted a severe cold if eating pork twice that week had anything to do with it. You can bet I will not be eating any pork until the USDA changes the temperature for pork back to at least 160 like the rest of meat.  I will still be enjoying pork, but only pork that I know has been properly prepared.  – Pandemic Survivor


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