To avoid pathogens, avoid raw meat, eggs, egg nog and flour this holiday season
Have you heard of Tiger Meat or Cannibal Sandwiches? If you’re from Wisconsin, I’m sure you have. I was introduced to this holiday tradition by my fiance’s family, who are all from northern Wisconsin.
This tradition is an appetizer of raw, lean ground beef served on bread with sliced onions, salt and pepper. It is also known as “tiger meat,” “steak tartare,” or “raw beef and onions.” The sandwiches are traditionally served at holiday parties and other festive gatherings in the Milwaukee area.
But for the sake of my family and yours, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (WDHS) is urging people to pass on this tradition.
“It is important to know that eating these types of foods is not without risks. Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter and Listeria are bacteria that can be found in raw and undercooked beef.” The WDHS adds that, “regardless of where you buy your ground beef, these risks are real.”
Since 1986, there have been at least eight outbreaks reported in Wisconsin linked to eating a raw ground beef dish. This includes a Salmonella outbreak involving more than 150 people during Dec. 1994. Ground beef should always be cooked to an internal temperature of 160° F.
Baking cookies is a great family activity for all ages during the holidays. However, this also means that the people most susceptible to food poisoning can come in direct contact with harmful bacteria.
According to Jennifer Quinlan, a professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at Drexel University in Philadelphia, “A younger person might just get sick for 24 or 48 hours and not feel good. But with older adults, it could potentially become a systemic infection; they can end up in the hospital.”
There are some easy ways to reduce the risk of food poisoning. Number one is to avoid eating raw dough.
Most people know about the dangers of eating raw dough. But most only think of the dangers of raw eggs and the risk of Salmonella.
It’s important to remember that raw flour can be just as dangerous as raw eggs. Flour is typically a raw agricultural product that hasn’t been treated to kill germs. Harmful germs can contaminate grain while it’s still in the field or during production. Bacteria are killed when food made with flour is cooked.
Recent outbreaks linked to flour:
September 2016 — Produced at a General Mills facility in Kansas City, MO
63 people infected with the outbreak strains of STEC O121 or STEC O26 were reported from 24 states
17 ill people were hospitalized. One person developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure
July 2019 – Baker’s Corner All Purpose Flour from ALDI in Rhode Island
21 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O26 were reported from 9 states
Tips from the FDA and CDC on baking and cooking with flour:
Though tempting, raw cookie dough should not be eaten.
Do not taste or eat any raw dough or batter, or crafts made with raw flour, such as homemade play dough or holiday ornaments. Do not touch your face while handling raw flour.
Do not let children play with raw dough. Even if they aren’t eating the dough, they may be putting their hands in their mouths after handling the dough.
Bake or cook raw dough and batter completely before eating bakes goods.
Follow the recipe or package directions for cooking or baking at the proper temperature and for the specified time.
Do not use raw homemade cookie dough in ice cream. Cookie dough ice cream sold in stores contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria.
Keep raw foods such as flour or eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods until immediately before their use.
Because flour is a powder, it can spread easily.
Follow label directions to refrigerate products containing raw dough or eggs until they are cooked.
Clean up thoroughly after handling flour, eggs, or raw dough:
Wash your hands with running water and soap after handling flour, raw eggs, or any surfaces they have touched.
Wash bowls, utensils, countertops, and other surfaces with warm, soapy water.
Traditional eggnog is made with raw eggs, which just like the cookie dough, creates a potential risk of salmonella poisoning. While cooking can destroy disease-causing bacteria, consumers can still become ill if the eggnog is left at room temperature for more than two hours before being consumed. Safe alternatives are pasteurized eggnog beverages sold in grocery dairy cases, though these products should still be kept refrigerated.
Apple cider and other juices
Another beverage often served during the holiday season is apple cider. Apple cider and most juices available at grocery stores are pasteurized or otherwise treated to destroy harmful bacteria. However, unpasteurized or raw juice may be found in the refrigerated sections of grocery stores, or at health-food stores, cider mills or farm markets. However, these type of products should have a warning such as:
WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and therefore, may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.
If you can’t tell whether a juice has been processed to destroy harmful bacteria, either don’t use the product or boil it to kill any bacteria.
Additional holiday advice from the CDC for this holiday season
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against traveling for the holidays or celebrating with people outside of your household. The CDC offers these guidelines for those who choose to celebrate with nonhousehold members:
• Limit the number of guests
• Set expectations for social distancing and masking requirements ahead of time
• Wear a mask indoors and outdoors
• Stay six feet apart
• Avoid shouting and singing
• Gather outdoors, weather permitting
• Open windows and doors if celebrating indoors
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
“Bring your own food and serving utensils, so that you’re not sharing with each other and potentially getting within six feet of each other,” adds Brigette Gleason, medical officer for the CDC’s Enteric Disease Epidemiology branch. “But the safest thing would be to only celebrate the holiday with people within your own household.”
About Salmonella infections
Food contaminated with Salmonella bacteria does not usually look, smell, or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection. Infants, children, seniors, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the CDC.
Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise, healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients require hospitalization.
Older adults, children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop a severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.
Some people get infected without getting sick or showing any symptoms. However, they may still spread the infections to others.
About E. coli infections
The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea. If there is fever, it is usually not lower than 101 degrees F (38.5 degrees C). Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others can develop severe or even life-threatening symptoms and complications.
About 5 percent to 10 percent of those who are diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor.
Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injuries or die. This condition can occur among persons of any age but is most common in children under 5-years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients.
People who experience HUS symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately. People with HUS should be hospitalized because it can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage and neurologic problems.