Food poisoning from eating undercooked pork often comes from meat that was already infected with parasitic organisms or contaminated with bacteria during slaughter, processing or preparation. Food poisoning from pork can cause severe illness, although symptoms vary depending on the contaminating germs, the amount of contaminant ingested and the individual's age and overall health. Proper food handling and cooking can substantially reduce the risk for food poisoning from pork.
Bacterial contamination of pork can occur during production, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping or preparation. Bacteria commonly associated with pork food poisoning include Campylobacter, Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes and Yersinia enterocolitica. Campylobacter is one of most common causes of diarrhea in the U.S. Other symptoms of Campylobacter food poisoning include nausea and vomiting. Yersinia enterocolitica is of special interest as it is a bacterium found in pig intestines and can cause yersiniosis in humans, typified by diarrhea and abdominal pain. Pig intestines, or chitterlings, are a common source of this type of food poisoning.
Trichinellosis can be contracted by eating raw or undercooked pork infected with the parasite Trichinella spiralis. Disease symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and weakness. Digestive system symptoms typically begin within 24 to 48 hours after eating contaminated, undercooked pork. Muscle and joint pain, cough, headache, fever and chill may develop weeks after the initial symptoms. Early treatment of Trichinellosis is important for permanently eliminating the parasite from the body.
Preventing Pork Food Posioning
Several approaches can be taken to avoid pork food poisoning. These include washing your hands and utensils when handling raw pork to remove any contaminants and reduce chance of contact transfer. To kill any parasitic contaminants within the meat, cook pork to an internal temperature of 145 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit and allow it to rest for 3 minutes before eating. During this resting time, the pork's temperature stays constant or rises, which kills the germs. Leftover pork should be refrigerated or frozen as soon as possible. Pork with a slimy appearance or foul smell should be thrown away. Freezing pork can also kill contaminating germs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends a range of freezing times for different types of pork products, ranging from 2 to 6 months. Thaw the meat in the refrigerator over several days.
The treatment for food poisoning from contaminated pork varies depending on the source. Simple cases of food poisoning caused by Yersinia enterocolitica or Campylobacter typically resolve without medication, but more serious cases may require antibiotics and intravenous fluids to treat dehydration. Trichinellosis is treated with antiparasitic drugs. For cases not treated early, a prolonged course of antiparasitic drug therapy may be needed.
Is This an Emergency?
- United States Department of Agriculture: Fresh Pork From Farm to Table
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Parasites Trichinellosis
- National Institutes of Health; A Higher Prevalence Rate of Campylobacter in Retail Beef Livers Compared to Other Beef and Pork Meat Cuts; A. Noormohamed and M.K. Fakhr
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Parasites Trichinellosis -- Resources for Health Professionals