Are You Getting a Raw Deal?: How To Ensure the Safety of Raw Meat

In the world of Instagram food photography, Buzzfeed recipes, and do-it-yourself gourmet cooking, there are endless opportunities to try some really incredible food.  Trying out steak tartare on vacation, making your own ceviche, or biting into a “sushi burrito” (Google it, they’re crazy!) may all be part of your eating adventures this summer.

Though I totally encourage trying rare and unique foods, we need to make sure they aren’t too rare. Some raw meat can carry dangerous bacteria that may put a quick and painful end to your eating escapades. Luckily for you, we have created a quick guide to the most popular raw meats and how to consume them safely. Take this handy guide on your food excursions and eat up, foodies!

Dining “Well Done”: Ordering Safely When Eating Out

According to the FDA Food Code, any eggs, meat, or seafood that is served raw at a restaurant must come with a warning somewhere on the menu. This warning can take the responsibility off of the restaurant and put it on the consumer to decide what is safe and what is not. If you are not careful about what you order, you may be susceptible to many bacteria such as salmonella spp., Listeria monocytogenes, Vibrio alginolyticus, and many more. These bacteria cause foodborne illnesses with many different symptoms that range from nausea to severe neurological damage or even death. Look for these things when eating raw or rare foods from a restaurant:

  • If you are part of a highly susceptible population (young children, older adults, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals), you should avoid rare or raw meat, seafood, and eggs all together. Those included in these populations are much more likely to become sick from bacteria than the rest of the population, so better safe than sorry!
  • Temperature is more important than color. Though a steak may look pink, it may have reached internal temperatures high enough to kill off bacteria.  On the other hand, meat that looks fully cooked may not be. Ordering your meat “medium” instead of “medium rare” can help you to ensure that your meat is cooked to temperatures safe for consumption, at least 145°F (or 160°F for ground meats)
  • Speaking of ground meats, consuming them when cooked to less than 160°F can never be surely safe to eat.  This is because in the grinding process, bacteria from the surface of the meat may be ground into the meat. For this reason, striking steak tartare off your bucket list and replacing it with a medium-cooked burger is your best bet.
  • When a restaurant serves raw seafood, it is required by the FDA to freeze any fish intended to be consumed raw at -4°F or below for a minimum of seven days. This freezing process kills bacteria you might find in raw seafood and makes it safe to eat. If you are unsure that the restaurant is doing this, you should ask for temperature logs that show that their fish meets standards.

Getting Creative in the Kitchen: Eating Raw in Your Home

When cooking raw meat in your home, there are two things to worry about: the product and the preparation. Paying attention to these two things will keep you happy, healthy, and hungry for more!

Product

  • When buying meat at the store, make sure you are buying from a reputable grocery store that keeps up with safety regulations. If something is being sold frozen, make sure it is actually frozen when you buy it; if something is refrigerated, be sure it is cold.
  • Want to make your own sushi? Buying sushi grade fish does not necessarily mean it is safe. In fact, there is no regulation of the term “sushi grade,” it is merely a term used to describe what the grocery store feels is its best quality fish. If you are looking to buy raw fish, make sure it has been frozen for at least seven days in temperatures below -4°F, just like the raw fish you would eat in a restaurant. For more information about picking safe-to-eat seafood, check out this article.

Preparation

  • When preparing food at home, it is extremely important that you keep your hands clean before, during, and after touching raw meat in order to reduce the chances of transmitting bacteria. In addition to your hands, be sure to keep your cooking surfaces clean and use a separate cutting board for any meat products.
  • Checking the temperature of meats as you cook them is essential for food safety and must be done with a food thermometer. Though we’d all love to believe we are kings of the kitchen, even a professional chef cannot tell if meat is done just by looking at it. Cooking temperatures vary for different types and cuts of meat; a table of cooking temperatures can be found here.

This big, wide world of food is filled with delicious delicacies, and now you are one of the lucky ones who know just how to safely enjoy them. So go forth and eat up (safely), my foodie friends!

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