When Good Foods Become Bad: Raw Foods

Raw Ground Meats
When we first moved to Wisconsin we were offered “Steak Tartare” at a holiday gathering. “Steak Tartare”, “Cannibal” or “Tiger Meat Sandwiches” are usually raw ground beef topped with condiments and onions over bread or crackers. What we didn’t know was that this can be a risky food. It is so risky that the Wisconsin Health Department recently strongly advised against the practice.

The best accepted practice for eating ground meats is to cook to internal temperatures of 165°F.

Meat Glue
There is a practice within the meat industry to use pork meat materials and enzymes as binders in selected meat food products to hold scraps of meat together. Fundamentally, these scraps of meat would otherwise be unappealing but “glued’ together they resemble and can be confused with a higher quality cut of meat. While it is generally considered safe to eat a nice cut of beef pink in the middle, glued meat must be treated like ground meats and should be cooked to internal temperatures of 165°F. To protect the public, “when this enzyme is used to fabricate or reform cuts of meat or poultry, the … labeling (needs) to indicate that it has been formed from pieces….”.

Raw Fish: Salmon
Salmon is one of my favorite fishes. I love it as the main entree and/or as an appetizer on crackers. In the later case, it may be brined or smoked. Be sure you know how it has been prepared because raw salmon carries worms and bacteria. Wild Pacific salmon of five species: chinook, coho, pink, rainbow trout, and sockeye in south-central Alaska were tested for worms. Because Pacific salmon are frequently exported unfrozen, on ice, worms may survive transport and cause human infections in areas where they are not otherwise found, such as China, Europe, New Zealand, and middle and eastern United States.

Brining and or cold smoking does not kill worms and/or many bacteria. Freezing to -4 degrees may, however, most home refrigerators are set to zero degrees F. Fortunately, hot smoking using a recommended internal temperature of 160 degrees F is generally considered sufficient to kill bacteria. If you choose to prepare your own smoked fish, here is a great resource I found for home curing and smoking of meats.

Fish and Mercury
Unfortunately many of our fish have become contaminated with mercury, released from power plants. There is no beneficial effect from mercury in our foods, only harm. Those at greatest risk are expectant or pregnant or breastfeeding women and our children. The FDA and EPA have issued advice regarding eating fish recommending that women and children eat not more than two to three servings of a variety of fish and shellfish each week.

FDA final advice fish to eat

Raw Eggs
Foods prepared with raw shell eggs have often been associated with Salmonella bacteria food poisoning outbreaks. The Environmental Health Specialists Network interviewed restaurants that prepare eggs to determine egg-handling practices.

    • Over half of all restaurants cracked and pooled raw shell eggs for later service and were held for up to 6 hours for pancakes and French toast.
    • Over a quarter of restaurants reported storing eggs at suboptimal room temperature.
    • Generally, fortunately eggs were cooked to 72 to 83°C, which is above the recommended final cook temperature of 63 to 68°C.The authors conclude: “Several areas were identified in which further emphasis might reduce egg-associated Salmonella infections in accordance with Healthy People 2010 goals.”

It may seem rewarding to eat raw foods but they carry risks. Knowing those risks helps you choose wisely.


Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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