While meat-loving foodies may swoon for steak tartare or yukhoe, eating raw steak or beef dishes like these or even rare cooked beef can potentially make you very sick. Food poisoning can occur if the raw or undercooked beef is contaminated with a disease-causing organism.
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As advised by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, cooking beef steaks or roasts to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit followed by resting the meat for three minutes before eating kills most of these germs. Ground beef must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 F.
Eating raw ground beef or other meats can cause gastrointestinal issues that can range from mild to life-threatening.
Raw Hamburger and E. coli
The bacterial group Escherichia coli (E. coli) includes hundreds of strains. Several strains normally inhabit the intestines of cattle and humans, and most are harmless.
However, a few E. coli strains found in cattle can cause food poisoning in humans if the meat is accidentally contaminated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Symptoms typically develop three to five days after eating the contaminated food, with abdominal pain and watery diarrhea predominating. Fever is usually absent.
Most people recover in seven to 10 days. However, some people develop a potentially life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. The condition occurs when bacterial toxins trigger destruction of circulating red blood cells and sudden kidney failure.
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.
Fever, abdominal cramps and watery diarrhea typically occur 12 to 72 hours after ingesting Salmonella-contaminated food. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms usually persist for two to seven days, although normal bowel habits may not return for several months in some people.
The CDC reports that people with Salmonella food poisoning can develop invasive disease, in which the bacteria spreads from the intestines to other parts of the body, such as the bloodstream, joints or bones. Invasive salmonellosis can be life-threatening.
Avoid Campylobacteriosis Poisoning
Campylobacter bacteria commonly inhabit 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 two to four days after ingesting the bacteria and include abdominal cramps, diarrhea and fever. Nausea and vomiting may also occur. Most people recover within seven to 10 days.
Campylobacter can spread to the bloodstream, especially in people with a weakened immune system. This development can be potentially life-threatening.
The CDC reports that approximately one out of every 1,000 people develop 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 are found in cattle, poultry and the soil. Eating raw or undercooked beef is a potential source of Listeria infection.
In healthy adults who have not reached their senior years, ingestion of a relatively large amount of Listeria bacteria can lead to fever, watery diarrhea, nausea, headache and body aches within 24 hours. Symptoms in these people usually improve in a few days.
However, certain groups are at high risk for invasive disease, or listeriosis, according to the CDC. High-risk groups include pregnant women, newborns, adults older than 65 and people with a weakened or suppressed immune system.
Flu-like symptoms typically occur in pregnant women with listeriosis, which can lead to miscarriage, preterm delivery, stillbirth or infection of the baby.
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.
Read more: The Effects of Eating a Steak Rare
Be Aware of Other Complications
Other bacteria can potentially contaminate beef and cause food poisoning if the meat is eaten raw. Examples include Shigella and Staphylococcus aureus. Viruses, such as the hepatitis A virus and norovirus, can also be contracted from contaminated, raw meat.
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.
Is This an Emergency?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Salmonella Technical Information"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Listeria (Listeriosis) Technical Information"
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: "Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart"
- Mayo Clinic: "Salmonella Infection"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "E. coli Infection"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Campylobacter (Campylobacteriosis)"