How Safe is it to Eat Raw or Undercooked Animal Products?

On restaurant menus, there is usually a disclaimer at the bottom that states “consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.” You might have noticed a similar warning on labels of foods such as sushi or cookie dough at the grocery store. You might be wondering if it is actually safe to eat raw seafood, rare meat, and raw eggs. Determining the safety of eating these foods requires understanding the risks of eating raw or undercooked foods, and then deciding if you are comfortable with the possible side effects.

SEAFOOD AND SHELLFISH

Popular seafood dishes that contain raw fish or shellfish include sushi, sashimi, oysters, poke, tuna tartare, and ceviche. Consuming any raw fish or shellfish poses a potential health risk because they could contain parasites, bacteria, and viruses. Infectious organisms commonly found in raw fish and shellfish include Listeria, Salmonella, and tapeworms, among others. These organisms can cause vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and other symptoms. If raw fish and shellfish are not stored and transported at correct temperatures then it increases the risk of having unwanted organisms. It is important to purchase fish only from trusted sources and only order raw varieties at reputable restaurants to reduce the risk it will contain these harmful organisms. The FDA advises against eating raw seafood or shellfish if you have a compromised immune system, are pregnant or breastfeeding.

MEAT/POULTRY

When you order a hamburger or steak at a restaurant, the waiter typically asks you how you would like it cooked. Asking for “rare” meat typically means the meat remains a pink color inside. When meat is undercooked, it has an increased risk of carrying pathogens/bacteria such as E. Coli and Salmonella. Alternatively, eating meat that is cooked to “medium” or “well done” means that your meat has been cooked to a temperature that will kill any potential pathogens that meat can carry.

When cooking at home, using a food thermometer to ensure your beef, veal, pork, or lamb has reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit internally and then stands for 3 or more minutes is the only way to ensure proper doneness. Ground beef needs to reach an even higher temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Poultry products should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit before eating and should never under any circumstances be eaten undercooked or raw. Such as with raw seafood, the FDA recommends avoiding rare meats if you have a compromised immune system, are pregnant or breastfeeding.

EGGS

Raw cookie dough might taste delicious, but it can also be harmful. You may have even noticed a recent trend of adding raw eggs or egg whites to drinks. Raw or undercooked eggs have a high risk of containing the bacteria Salmonella. Salmonella can travel in human or animal feces, and is most commonly contracted from contaminated foods and drinks. It causes food poisoning symptoms that can be especially dangerous for high-risk populations. It’s best to avoid raw eggs altogether and wait until your cookies are cooked, or choose to eat raw cookie-dough made without eggs. As with other raw animal products, people who have a compromised immune system, pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid foods that contain raw egg as an ingredient.

Avoiding raw animal products is the best way to ensure you will not get sick. Eating raw meat, poultry, fish, or egg products poses the risk of getting food poisoning and experiencing vomiting, diarrhea, and other stomach-related symptoms. If you have any underlying illnesses that weaken your immune system or make you more susceptible to foodborne illness, such as being young, elderly, pregnant or breastfeeding, it is especially important to avoid these foods to prevent more dangerous side effects. Try choosing “medium” or “well-done” meats, eating raw fish only from sources you trust, and avoiding raw eggs altogether.

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