As National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation well demonstrated, Christmas can be a source of some bizarre seasonal accidents and illnesses. From flaming Christmas trees to undercooked Turkey, the festive season is rife with drama and Wisconsin’s Department of Health is trying to keep its residents safe this year by advising they forgo a festive snack that’s traditional in the region: raw meat sandwiches.
Also known as Tiger Meat or Cannibal Sandwiches, this Wisconsin Christmas staple sandwiches raw ground beef with egg, onion and seasoning between two bits of sliced bread. “Many Wisconsin families consider them to be a holiday tradition, but eating them poses a threat for Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter and Listeria bacteria that can make you sick,” wrote the Wisconsin Department of Health in a Facebook plea. “And, no, it doesn't matter where you buy your beef!”
The dangers of raw beef were perhaps best demonstrated in the infamous 1993 Jack in the Box E coli outbreak. The outbreak involved 73 of the chain’s restaurants in California, Idaho, Washington, and Nevada, where beef patties were served undercooked as it was decided by the owners that cooking to the required 71 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit) made them too tough. According to a report from Food Safety News, the inadequate preparation caused over 700 people to fall in across four states, the majority of which were in Washington. Of those infected, there were 171 hospitalizations and four deaths.
When beef is ground it’s more prone to picking up harmful bacteria as the surface area which can come into contact with pathogens increases. We can eat steak with a raw center as the outside of the cut is seared, killing surface bacteria. This method of meat preparation however still leaves you at risk from parasites (such as Toxoplasma gondii) as, while most abattoir animals are treated for bugs before slaughter, unless meat is cooked-through it's never without risk.
Steak tartare is another raw beef dish, made famous by the French.To be served in restaurants, the meat must be purchased and sealed before being ground on site and immediately served to a diner. The ground meat which you buy in the supermarket is therefore not suitable for such a dish, as the surface of this meat has been exposed for a significant time before reaching the consumer.
An unlucky diner with a penchant for raw beef in China was found to have been carrying a six-meter (20 foot) tapeworm. At time of discovery, the Taenia saginata which had taken up residence in his small intestine was thought to have been there for at least two years.
“Remember, ground beef should ALWAYS be cooked to an internal temperature of 160° [Fahrenheit]” wrote the Wisconsin Department of Health. For more advice on meat preparation from the United States Department of Agriculture, click here.