Trichinosis in Free-Range Pigs: Cause for Concern, or Sloppy Editing and Writing?
As someone who has fallen head over heels for designer pig, I was initially dismayed to read in the New York Times on Friday that trichinosis, which has basically been wiped out in industrially raised pigs, had been found in two designer pigs—and that a higher percentage of free-roaming pigs had salmonella and toxoplasma.
It was the mention of trichinosis that got to me. I began to worry that this news makes a serious liar out of me. For years I've been telling people not to worry about ordering pork chops medium-rare because there hadn't been a case of trichinosis reported in the U.S. in many years.
Then I reread the piece and really started thinking about it, looked around online, and finally decided to talk to a pig farmer about it, something I don't think the writer, James McWilliams, did (and, regrettably, the Times editors didn't tell him to do).
The conclusion: It was an irresponsibly edited and unnecessarily alarmist story, at least when it comes to trichinosis.
Serious eaters don't have much to worry about in contracting trichinosis—if they take a few basic precautions.
My research yielded the following: The National Pork Board's website says the trichinosis bacteria, called trichinellis, is killed when the meat reaches an internal temperature of 137 degrees Fahrenheit [PDF]. The usually cautious USDA recommends you cook pork until it's 160 degrees.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only five Americans were diagnosed with the disease in 2004, and most of them probably got it from eating wild game, most likely bear.
Why didn't the Times require McWilliams to do more homework after he turned in the piece?
Flying Pigs Farm's Jennifer Small was, as expected, chagrined to say the least.
"I've been thinking about this all day," she said. "It's true that you can get trichinosis from pork, and the study proves that trichinosis still exists, but according to the Centers for Disease Control, trichinosis is killed at 137 degrees Fahrenheit, which I believe is beyond rare. I cook our pork to 145 and then let it rest, and it's not all that rare.
"Every time you put something in your mouth, you're making a choice. Confined pigs need huge doses of antibiotics, more than humans are ever given, and the diseases we can get from ingesting too much of those antibiotics are much scarier than trichinosis."
Serious eaters, I am going to continue buying and eating pork that comes from responsibly and humanely raised pigs like the meat I get at the Union Square Greenmarket from Flying Pigs Farm. The Times should have required a little more information and reporting from McWilliams. His piece has caused much unnecessary anxiety on the part of pork-lovers and responsible pig farmers, and that's a shame.