The Japanese do it. Cavemen did it. Wilderness TV show hosts do it. High-class, snooty urban foodies do it. Even ultra-zealous fitness junkies do it. All of these groups eat raw meat.
When the Paleo and raw food diet plans hit the national bestseller list a few years ago, they started a conversation about the perils of processed and cooked foods that were slowly destroying the health of western culture. They point to statistics showing that over half (68.8 percent) of Americans are obese, and the rising number of new cases of diabetes and heart disease as proof. But is consuming a seven-ounce steak prepared medium ”forget-about-using-the-grill” the key to better health? Can disciplined dieters overcome disease by chowing down on a chicken breast served up rare?
Not all meat is created equal.
Unless you have total control over your meat source, there is a risk of acquiring foodborne illnesses from eating undercooked or raw meat. Although people may eat routinely rare steaks and raw fish, there is still a risk of getting sick, but the risks are lower because of the nature of food preparation and the meat’s origin.
For example, a beef filet prepared medium rare is often seared on both sides, leaving the center pink. If there are any microorganisms present on the exposed surface of the meat, the high cooking temperatures kills them.The inside portion, the muscle, which hasn’t been exposed to air or unclean handling, remains safe to eat.
However, all bets are off when it comes to ground beef. Since ground beef often consists of a variety of cows getting mixed into the same batch, the likelihood of one of those cows contaminating the batch is high. Therefore, doctors caution consumers from eating hamburgers that are red in the center.
But what about sashimi or raw fish? “The parasites and bacteria that set up shop in raw animal meat are different and more dangerous than the ones you’d find in raw fish,” says Dr. Robert Tauxe from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here are the raw facts about chicken.
Chicken and pork offer a different story. “Eating chicken medium rare is likely not safe and can lead to foodborne illnesses,” says Alina Jameson, MS, RD., from the University of Utah School of Medicine. “Conventionally raised and distributed chicken in the U.S. is not certified to be salmonella-free, so the safest choice is to cook your poultry until well-done.”
Again, the concerns about eating raw or rare chicken originate with the meat’s primary source. For instance, while using antibiotics is typical in meat processing, a 2014 salmonella outbreak in a commercial chicken processing plant—which infected almost 700 people in 29 states and Puerto Rico—uncovered non-typhoidal Salmonella strains that were resistant to these antibiotics. “It is not unusual for raw poultry from any producer to have Salmonella bacteria,” the CDC reports.
Chicken is an excellent source of protein, and it’s the go-to lean meat for weight control. But to fully enjoy its nutritional benefits, chicken and other cuts of meat needs to be handled responsibly.
Follow healthy guidelines for meat preparation.
Let’s face it: those who enjoy eating raw meat will continue doing so. But for those who venture more on the side of caution and feel a little squeamish at the idea of a meal biting back, there are guidelines for meat preparation to ensure your safety.
According to www.foodsafety.gov and the www.eatright.org (the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), chicken and turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 F. Red meat, lamb, and pork may be eaten medium rare (145 F) if cooked whole, but ground meats should reach at least 160 F for safety. Seafood, including shrimp, lobster, and scallops should be cooked until the flesh is opaque and firm.
The bottom line? Unless you can be sure of the meat’s source and handling, here is a safe rule of thumb: when in doubt, cook it out.
This article was originally published by University of Utah Health Care.