Q; Sometimes my meatloaf looks reddish pink inside, even when I go well beyond the recommended cooking time. Why won’t it cook all the way through? Is it safe to eat?
A: It’s difficult to determine whether meat is fully cooked by only looking at the color. One reason is the effect of nitrates.
Nitrates are used in some processed meats - like smoked or cooked sausage – to control the growth of dangerous bacteria. These same nitrates can bind to proteins in meat, preventing them from releasing oxygen molecules as they normally would during the cooking process. As a result, the proteins remain oxygenized and maintain a red or pink color even when the meat is fully cooked.
For the same reasons, using root vegetables like onions or garlic in your meatloaf can cause it to maintain a pink color. Root vegetables are high in naturally occurring nitrates. Wait until your meatloaf is brown inside, and you may find it dry and overcooked. This same “uncooked” appearance can occur in whole muscle meats that are seasoned with fresh root vegetables.
There are other factors that affect the color of cooked meats, including fat content, the presence of added ingredients, pigment and pH levels,,, even gas grilling!
Regardless of the color, your meatloaf (and any other ground meats) will be safe to eat once the internal temperature reaches 160 ºF, the point at which any harmful bacteria that might be present will be destroyed. Using a meat thermometer will allow you to cook meats safely, and to perfection.
Click here to see USDA’s recommended cooking temperatures for different meats.
For more on the science behind the color of cooked meats, check out this report.
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