Can Eating Raw Beef Make You Sick?

Raw ground beef, hamburger meat and dishes like steak tartare are not considered safe to eat, per USDA regulations.
Image Credit: margouillatphotos/iStock/Getty Images

While meat-loving foodies may swoon for steak tartare or yukhoe, eating raw meat or even rare cooked beef may not be safe. Food poisoning can occur if the raw or undercooked beef is contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria, according to the USDA.

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Cooking beef steaks or roasts to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit followed by resting the meat for 3 minutes before eating kills most of these germs, according to the USDA. Ground beef must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 F.

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Tip

Eating raw ground beef or hamburger meat can cause stomach issues that can range from mild to life-threatening, per the USDA.

What Happens if You Eat Raw Ground Beef?

Eating raw beef, or raw meat in general can be dangerous to your health. The group of bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) includes hundreds of strains.

Several strains normally inhabit the intestines of cattle and humans, and most are harmless. But a few E. coli strains found in cattle can cause food poisoning in humans if the beef is accidentally contaminated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Symptoms typically develop 3 to 5 days after eating the contaminated beef, with abdominal pain and watery diarrhea predominating. Fever does not usually occur.

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Most people recover in 7 to 10 days. But, some people develop a potentially life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. The condition occurs when bacterial toxins trigger the destruction of circulating red blood cells and sudden kidney failure, per the CDC.

Steer Clear of Salmonellosis

Eating raw or undercooked beef can lead to salmonellosis, an infection caused by Salmonella bacteria. The bacteria can inhabit the digestive tract of cattle without causing illness in the animals, according to the CDC.

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Symptoms usually occur 12 to 72 hours after eating Salmonella-contaminated beef. These include:

  • Fever
  • Stomach cramps
  • Watery diarrhea

Symptoms usually persist for 2 to 7 days, although normal bowel habits may not return for several months in some people, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Salmonella food poisoning can develop into an invasive disease in which the bacteria spreads from the intestines to other parts of the body, such as the bloodstream, joints or bones, per the CDC.

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Warning

Invasive salmonellosis, which happens when the bacteria spread from the intestines to other parts of the body, can be life-threatening.

Avoid Campylobacteriosis Poisoning

Campylobacter bacteria are commonly found in the digestive tract of cattle and poultry and can contaminate the meat and lead to food poisoning unless properly cooked. Most cases of Campylobacter food poisoning, known as campylobacteriosis, are caused by Campylobacter jejuni, according to the CDC.

Symptoms typically begin 2 to 4 days after taking in the bacteria and include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Most people recover within 7 to 10 days but campylobacter can spread to the bloodstream. This can be life-threatening in people with a weakened immune system.

The CDC reports that about one out of every 1,000 people develops a condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome in the weeks following a bout of campylobacteriosis. Guillain-Barre syndrome causes temporary paralysis, which can persist for several weeks to months.

Watch for Listeriosis

The bacteria Listeria monocytogenes is found in cattle, poultry and the soil. Eating raw or undercooked beef is a potential source of Listeria infection.

Per the CDC, Listeria infection can lead to:

  • Fever
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Body aches

Symptoms in these people usually improve in a few days, but certain groups are at high risk for invasive disease, or listeriosis, according to the CDC. High-risk groups include pregnant people, newborns, adults older than 65 and people with a weakened or suppressed immune system.

Flu-like symptoms typically occur in pregnant people with listeriosis, which can lead to miscarriage, preterm delivery, stillbirth or infection of the baby, according to the CDC.

Other high-risk groups who develop listeriosis can exhibit a variety of symptoms, depending on the area of the body infected with the bacteria. Invasion of the bloodstream and nervous system are particularly common and can be life-threatening.

Be Aware of Other Complications

Other bacteria can potentially contaminate beef and cause food poisoning if the meat is eaten raw. These bacteria include:

  • Shigella
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Hepatitis A virus
  • Norovirus

Eating undercooked or raw beef also poses a risk for parasitic infections, such as beef tapeworm and giardiasis. Parasitic infections are a greater risk when eating raw beef in developing countries that may have inconsistent or substandard food-quality standards or sanitation, per the USDA.

Is Steak Tartare Safe to Eat?

Steak tartare is a dish most commonly associated with French cuisine. If you're wondering whether or not steak tartare is safe to eat, the verdict is the same as it is for all ground beef and hamburger meat.

Raw beef, including steak tartare, is not considered safe because it's not cooked to an internal temperature of 160 F, per the USDA.

Warning

Just because raw meat is served in restaurants doesn't mean it is safe to eat. Steak must be cooked to a safe internal temperature of at least 160 F.

A Safe Steak Tartare Alternative

If you're a fan of steak tartare, the USDA has a few suggestions for making the dish safe to eat.

Things You'll Need

  • Frying pan

  • Raw ground beef

  • 1 egg

  • Spices and toppings, such as onions, dry mustard, Worcestershire sauce and capers

Step 1: Cook Your Beef

Start by cooking the ground beef over medium heat in a frying pan with the same spices and toppings you'd use if you were making steak tartare — such as onions, dry mustard, capers, 1 egg and fresh chopped parsley — until the meat reaches 160 F.

Step 2: Serve With Crackers or Bread

You can serve your cooked beef with toasted bread or crackers, and may be surprised to find that it tastes better prepared!

Step 3: Store It Properly

Practice good food safety by keeping your beef in an insulated container. Avoid leaving the meat out at room temperature for more than two hours, as this will cause bacteria to multiply. Keep any leftovers in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days maximum.

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Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker.
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