Is pink in cooked sausages safe?

O'Hagan's Sausages are made using the finest fresh ingredients and no artificial anything - pictured Greenwich Smokey Sausage
O’Hagan’s Sausages are made using the finest fresh ingredients and no artificial anything – pictured Greenwich Smokey Sausage

I’m often asked – is it safe to eat sausages if they are pink inside? Yes, if they are cooked – is the short answer. This may sound like a contradiction, because we have always been taught and told by government agencies that if pork sausages are pink, they haven’t been cooked. Factually this is wrong, colour is not a true indication of whether sausages have been cooked. There are various US university studies (easily found online) which explain it in greater detail.

Colour is not an indication if the meat has been cooked

Meat is cooked when pathogenic bacteria is killed and becomes safe to eat. Internet forums are full of people posting that, they have cooked sausages for ages and they were still pink, can they eat them? Sausages and meat that has been minced, can stay pink when cooked. It can also brown prematurely, which is just as worrying. Premature browning means they can look ‘cooked’ (not pink) but in fact the pathogenic bacteria has not been killed. Therefore, colour is a terrible indication of whether a sausage has been cooked. However don’t stress, there are definite ways to know when meat has been cooked.

How to ensure the meat has been cooked?

Probing is best

Whilst the heading for this section may have other connotations, it’s the electric probe thermometer I am talking about. Don’t be put off eating sausages, there is one definitive way to tell if your beautiful juicy breakfast sausages are cooked. It’s not internal colour, the core temperature is the key! In this day and age all supermarkets and kitchen shops sell electronic probes. They are not expensive either and cost around £8 for a basic model, which is perfect for a home kitchen. Although, I do recommend an electronic one as readings are very accurate. My probe and a bottle of wine are the first things I make sure are to hand when cooking at home. I always cook with mine, and this doesn’t end with sausages. Meat like chicken I always probe before serving to my family to make sure it’s safe to eat. This is just personal preference but I don’t like my meat being over cooked as I think it loses flavour and juiciness. Probes are perfect for making sure you get the meat to the perfect internal temperature before it gets over cooked.

So this leads to the next question, what temperature should it be?

Cooking temperature – the magic number

75 degrees centigrade for 30 seconds is where your sausages need to be. When they hit this magic number all pathogenic bacteria is killed and they are safe to eat. Enjoy your sausages whatever colour they are internally and know all bacteria are dead and they are good to eat.

The science – so why sausages can stay pink when cooked?

Now I don’t profess to be a scientist, however I am proud of my science GCSE. The only time I wear a white jacket is to make sausages. I am just a simple sausage maker from Sussex that enjoys the finer things in life, like rugby and real ale. However I will give an explanation a go, as I understand it. To put it simply, cheap sausages (I’ve been told, I’ve never eaten one) can stay pink because they are full of nasty preservatives and nitrates. Good quality sausages, without preservatives and nitrates, like ours can also stay pink when cooked because of myoglobin. Myoglobin is responsible for the colour in muscle foods like shoulder. Shoulder by the way is the very best cut of meat for sausages. Sorry back to THE SCIENCE! When pork is minced the myoglobin has a chemical reaction with oxygen which can produce a different colour when exposed to heat and can create three different forms: deoxymyoglonin purple, oxymyglobin red and metmyoglobin brown. This won’t happen with joints, chops etc as the centre has not been oxidised like mince. Therefore meat with more myoglobin, once minced can stay pink when cooked or brown before its done! Just remember this doesn’t happen with all sausages. Meat is from living animals so can vary. Some cheap sausages are so full of bread, its like cooking toast in a skin and the meat science is irrelevant. However as mentioned if there is pink in the sausage don’t be worried, just make sure it’s cooked!

Conclusion

If you are not sure and don’t have a probe – don’t eat it. However in different circumstances, for example when eating out, don’t let colour put you off. You can ask the question ‘have they been probed.’ All restaurants, caterers and commercial kitchens have probes by law and will be checking their sausages. Just ask if they have, you now know what temperature they should be! I hope you have enjoyed my first article and you’ve found it informative. Look out for my next one, where I will discuss the methods of cooking sausages.

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