Public Health

Please Don't Fry That Prosciutto!

a proscuitto wrapped fig

hide captionProsciutto, such as the slice that envelops this fig, will not give you swine flu

April Fulton/NPR

The World Health Organization's daily swine flu briefing on Sunday dealt with a burning culinary question du jour —- at least among the European press. What about cured ham products?

Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO food safety scientist, had just repeated the stock speech that pork products are perfectly safe to eat as long as they're properly cooked.

"What about ham this is not cooked?" asked Brad Clapper of the Associated Press. "Millions of people eat ham in different ways, including raw. Do they now have to fry up prosciutto (air-dried Italian ham) or jambon cru (raw ham)...in order to be safe?"

These variations of ham are cured or dried, rather than cooked, per preservation techniques hundreds of years old.

Frying prosciutto or jambon cru? Quel horreur! Sacrilegio!

Embarek, obviously a gourmand himself, replied, "No, there is no reason to start destroying these wonderful traditional products.

"You shouldn't forget," he explained, "that to produce a (cured) ham, it takes a long time when the product is maturing. And these processes are...believed to inactivate any viruses that might have been on the raw material in the first place."

So, Embarek said, "you can continue to safely eat your prosciutto."

At that, laughter (of relief?) rippled through the WHO tent where the media gather every evening at five to learn what the world needs to fear next from the virus officially known — with a deep bow to pork producers the world over — as "the H1N1 of 2009."

Listen to the full Embarek prosciutto response here:

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