New York Times on “Paternalistic” Government

The Dining section of today’s New York Times has a short piece reporting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has lowered its recommended safe cooking temperature for pork from 160 degrees Fahrenheit to 145. Gourmands are rejoicing, as they’ve noted that the higher temperature would often render a lean cut of pork, such as a loin, “tough and dry.”

It’s been reasonably well known for some time that cooking whole cuts of meat — including beef, lamb, and even pork — to a lower internal temperature could kill a sufficient portion of harmful bacteria to make the food safe to eat (though ground meats should still be cooked to the higher temperatures because the grinding and mixing process could move substantially more bacteria from the heated outside part of the cut to the inside). And USDA cooking recommendations for beef and lamb have reflected that reality for some time now. But the higher cooking temperature for pork remained, primarily as an artifact of largely bygone concerns about trichinosis — a disease caused by parasitic worms once common in pork and wild game. But due to changing pork industry practices, trichinosis from pork is now fairly rare.

What’s most remarkable about the article is a quote from chef and culinary author Nathan Myhrvold (Yes, techies! That Nathan Myhrvold.) describing USDA’s attitude toward pork cooking temperatures as “very paternalistic, father knows best, we can’t let those dumb customers know the real thing.”

Who’d have thunk it? Government being paternalistic? I’ll grant that it’s just the Dining section, but I never thought I’d read those words quoted so approvingly in the New York Times.