Is there raw meat that won't make you sick and kill you?
October 8, 2009 4:36 PM   Subscribe

Are there kinds of meat that are safe to eat raw? Or is there a way of treating meat to make it safe to eat raw?

Not that I have any immediate plans to do so, but I occasionally do performance art, and it's the kind of thing that might eventually be useful to know.
posted by emperor.seamus to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you consider fish meat? Lots of people eat raw fish and neither get sick nor die.

Some people eat steak tartar and neither get sick nor die.

Neither of these facts means that you can eat raw fish or steak and neither get sick nor die. There's always a chance of both when eating raw flesh.
posted by dfriedman at 4:40 PM on October 8, 2009

I eat raw caribou and whale regularly as part of my work. After a few weeks of it, I feel better than ever. Nothing cooked tastes as good. Just a data point, but I haven't gotten sick in several years of doing that.

Of course, you'll have to kill your own meat.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:40 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Steak tartare of course. Those it was popular, it's not necessarily safe.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:41 PM on October 8, 2009

Neither of these facts means that you can eat raw fish or steak and neither get sick nor die.

Wow, I wrote that poorly, sorry.

What I meant is: just because people eat these things and neither get sick nor die doesn't mean you won't get sick or die if you eat them.
posted by dfriedman at 4:42 PM on October 8, 2009

Radiation can reduce bacteria, parasites, and other nasties... or even eliminate them completely at high levels... but I don't know how you go about getting things irradiated enough to be sterile. You may need a connection at a Los Alamos cafeteria.
posted by rokusan at 4:43 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Fresh meat from a healthy animal, in and of itself, is quite safe to eat.

The problem is that modern meat processing is designed with the idea in mind that all of the meat will be cooked. They try to keep the meat from dragging through shit and the like, but there's not a lot of sterility in a meat-packing plant. As a result, it would be a pretty bad idea to trust commercial meat.

Also keep in mind that ground meats have far greater surface area available to pick up germs. Steak tartare is okay if you procure a steak and grind it yourself in your sanitized food processor. It's a completely different (and scary, disgusting) beast to make steak tartare from store-bought hamburger.
posted by Netzapper at 4:48 PM on October 8, 2009 [9 favorites]

Carpaccio is raw beef, venison or veal, and that's served in restaurants all over the place.

Kibbeh nayyeh is raw lamb with bulgar wheat, served in Muslim countries.

Steak tartare is raw ground beef with raw eggs.

Sashimi is raw seafood.

Any raw or undercooked meat has the potential to carry bacteria, so I'd make friends with a reputable butcher if you'd like to start eating raw animal products and keep your prep surfaces sterilized.
posted by xingcat at 4:50 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Ceviche isn't cooked over heat, but it is treated in citrus to denature the proteins.
posted by procrastination at 4:50 PM on October 8, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you for all answers! I've been reading about raw food diets on and off lately but really my instinct is that I should really make sure that meat has been killed with fire before I put it in my mouth.

Fourcheesemac, your job sounds delicious! If I ever kill my own food, I'll definitely have some raw in your honor! Then I'll cook the rest like a little girly man.
posted by emperor.seamus at 4:50 PM on October 8, 2009

Best answer: Raw meat is not poisonous to the human body.

Bacteria and contamination from the slaughterhouse is.

"The bacteria are transferred to the surface when cattle is slaughtered and the gut is accidentally cut open. If that happens, feces can contaminate the outer flesh or fat."

If you have some ground beef in front of you, the bacteria is evenly dispersed throughout the meat by the grinding process and you should not eat it raw.

If you have a fat steak in front of you, the bacteria is only on the outside surface. Keep in mind that, while passing through the outer surface, a knife can carry bacteria into the inside of the steak, so just slicing off the outer surface isn't enough.

I've heard of rare hamburger cognoscentes using this process:

1) Buy a intact piece of meat from a reputable butcher (I'm boycotting Whole Foods and I don't eat meat anyway, but I hear good things about their meat counter).

2) In a clean kitchen, use a culinary torch to apply flame to the outside of the meat. This will not be sufficent to really "cook" the meat, but the heat from the flame will kill bacteria.

3) The meat is now safe to eat.

4) If you're going for ground beef (ex: rare burgers or steak tartare), grind in a scrupulously clean home meat grinder. Kitchenaid makes a nice one.

Keep in mind that this only prevents against bacteria, not parasites. Parasites are very rare in farmed meat, but I would never eat wild game raw due to the risk of worms and other nasties.
posted by Juliet Banana at 4:51 PM on October 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'm still alive and healthy having eaten beef, lamb, venison, elk, countless fish, and who knows what else raw...
posted by foodgeek at 4:53 PM on October 8, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks Juliet! That's really really interesting! If I do ever take a dive and eat raw then I'll give it a shot!
posted by emperor.seamus at 4:57 PM on October 8, 2009

Parasites are very rare in farmed meat, but I would never eat wild game raw due to the risk of worms and other nasties.

Marsupial parasites don't know what to do with placental mammals, so fresh-killed raw kangaroo should be fine.

Commercial kangaroo has the same bacterial contamination issues as other commercial meat, possibly made worse by unreliable chilling before reaching the packing plant.
posted by flabdablet at 5:10 PM on October 8, 2009

I saw raw chicken on a menu in Japan so I ate it. No ill effects. I take this to mean that just about any meat is OK to eat raw provided things are kept clean. The only issue is if you trust your food supply-chain to be clean enough.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:17 PM on October 8, 2009

There is available a way of processing meats and other foods which fully sterilizes them without cooking them: irradiation. The food is exposed to a high dose of X-rays or, preferably, gamma rays which guarantees to kill anything which is alive. But the total energy exposure is very small; it's nowhere near enough to cook the food. It doesn't even heat it up appreciably.

It is absolutely safe. This was discovered and made practical something like 60 years ago, but though it is legal in the US, anti-nuclear hysteria has effectively killed it.

The preferred way of doing this is to use Cobalt 60 as a gamma ray source. The Co-60 doesn't come into contact with the food and there is zero, repeat zero, radioactive contamination of the food, but, well, you know, "OMG IT'S RADIATION" and all that. And there's the usual huge body of studies a few of which suggest that there might be some obscure problems and most of which show that the resulting food is perfectly safe.

It's a pity it never took off. Milk processed this way can be stored at room temperature as long as the package isn't opened and it'll keep for months. Vegetables processed this way last much longer before going bad. And it totally eliminates the danger of contaminated meat.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:22 PM on October 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

Are there kinds of meat that are safe to eat raw?

As others have said, most meat is safe to eat raw. It just might have parasites or bacteria on it. The type of meat determines how much of a risk this is.

Secondly, "safe" is a relative term. Nothing is 100% safe to eat. Hell, spinach and other leafy greens have a non trivial risk of having nasty bacteria like e.coli on them. Do you consider spinach safe to eat raw?

So it's all a question of risk management. It's relatively easy to find sashimi grade seafood where bacterial contamination isn't a huge concern. Parasites are probably more common than most people who love sushi realize, unfortunately, but luckily the parasites you can get from eating sushi are generally not serious and taking a single pill will fix you right up. Finding beef you can trust to eat raw is also probably something you can do in a lot of areas. I know people who have done it and it's not that hard. On the other end of the spectrum I'm not sure I'd eat any poultry raw. Even the best poultry has a decent chance of being contaminated with salmonella.

The takeaway is that there is no such thing as a 100% safe food. Not raw beef, not cooked beef, not sushi, and not strawberries or spinach. You can find lots of kinds of meat that the risk of eating raw won't be very high but you have to do the legwork and it's never going to be 100% safe, because nothing is.

Or is there a way of treating meat to make it safe to eat raw?

Since the meat itself is safe to eat raw, this question has to do with whether there is a way to treat raw meat to kill any parasites or bacteria while leaving it uncooked. The answer is actually yes. Irradiating the meat to a certain level will render it as close to 100% safe to eat raw as makes no difference. Of course there's always the chance the meat gets contaminated again after irradiation (like I said, nothing is ever 100%) but that's true of anything.

Plus irradiating the meat isn't really very expensive. The reason it doesn't happen is mostly because people freak out when they hear the word "radiation" and so think the meat will make them mutant zombie freaks or something. Personally, I'd love to be able to buy meat that has been neatly sterilized through irradiation but it's not really feasible for an individual to do.
posted by Justinian at 5:30 PM on October 8, 2009

Parasites are a serious issue (have you heard of brain worms?), but they can be killed without cooking by freezing the meat for a certain period of time. Parasites in raw fish which is to be used in sushi are killed by freezing for 24 hours at -4°F or below. Trichinosis can be prevented by freezing the meat for 20 days at 5°F or 3 days at 4°F (the meat should be no more than six inches thick).
posted by Ery at 5:47 PM on October 8, 2009

I've had raw horsemeat in Japan and Italy.
posted by tss at 6:05 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Raw meat is not poisonous to the human body.

Isn't this just because we invented refrigeration?
posted by smackfu at 6:19 PM on October 8, 2009

Chicken sushi has been mentioned, but no one has suggested raw pork so far. My grandfather used to eat his bacon raw on a regular basis and lived to be 81.
posted by beagle at 6:20 PM on October 8, 2009

As far as finding a safe supplier of raw meat, you might try hooking up with an outfit like this; I don't know precisely how their meat is butchered and packaged but it seems likely that the conditions are more controlled than those of a commercial slaughterhouse.
posted by lakeroon at 6:22 PM on October 8, 2009

I have a German friend who loved raw pork and onions on dark bread. She says that it's popular and common where she's from.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 6:33 PM on October 8, 2009

Raw horse, raw fish, and yes, raw deer in Japan. They also claim raw chicken is okay, but as a North American, uh, nope. Seared rare duck breast is mighty tasty though.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:58 PM on October 8, 2009

Here in Nagoya there's a famous kind of chicken called Nagoya Kouchin. I once had a meal including raw thigh, leg, breast, liver, gizzard, heart, and probably some other parts. With raw egg as a dipping sauce. It was spectacularly delicious, and I've had no ill effects.
posted by greasepig at 12:40 AM on October 9, 2009

Did I fail to mention raw goose? I've eaten plenty of that too. Freshly killed, of course.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:54 AM on October 9, 2009

Also keep in mind that ground meats have far greater surface area available to pick up germs.

This is not the real problem with ground meat. The real problem with ground meat is that it's often made from parts of tens if not hundreds or thousands of different animals, and contamination of any one of those contaminates the whole batch. Also, to keep costs down, it's made from inferior cuts which are more likely to be infected with something nasty. Freezing may kill parasites, but it doesn't kill bacteria.

A recent NY Times article on the dangers of ground meat.
posted by Caviar at 7:02 PM on October 9, 2009

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