Eating raw beef can make you very sick. Common reasons for illness from eating raw or undercooked beef products are bacteria introduced during any part of meat processing. Once contamination of the beef occurs, the only way to eliminate your risk of contracting a foodborne illness is to cook the meat thoroughly to an internal temperature of 145 F for steaks and 160 F for ground beef. Before you decide to chance it, be aware of common bacteria found in raw beef, as well as the illnesses associated with them.
Raw beef -- particularly raw ground beef -- is a common source of E. coli contamination. If you ingest raw beef products containing these bacteria, you are at risk of developing such symptoms as vomiting, abdominal cramping and profuse, often bloody, diarrhea. Symptoms generally begin three to four days after ingestion of contaminated foods, and they last anywhere from five to seven days after onset.
Another bacterium associated with undercooked or raw beef is Salmonella. Symptoms of Salmonella infection occur 12 hours to three days after you ingest meat contaminated with the bacteria. Diarrhea and abdominal cramping persist for up to seven days. Fever is also a common manifestation of this type of infection. High-risk individuals, including those who are immunocompromised, may experience more severe symptoms than those who are healthy.
Also found in raw meat, the bacterium Campylobacter jejuni is particularly dangerous, as it has the potential to spread to the bloodstream, resulting in a potentially life-threatening condition. Persisting for up to seven days, symptoms of infection from these bacteria include abdominal cramping and pain, fever and diarrhea that may or may not contain blood. Onset of these symptoms usually occurs two to five days after ingestion of contaminated raw or undercooked beef.
Cooking beef to an appropriate internal temperature destroys Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. Therefore, if you eat raw beef, you are at risk of infection. You may experience some gastrointestinal distress, such as diarrhea and nausea, with this bacterium. However, symptoms such as muscle aches and fever are more common. Listeria monocytogenes bacteria can travel to and affect your nervous system, causing such manifestations as stiff neck, headache, balance issues, confusion and convulsions. Women who are pregnant, immunocompromised individuals, infants and the elderly are at higher risk of experiencing severe complications from infection from this bacterium.