No, it is not recommended to eat corned beef without cooking it first. Raw corned beef can contain harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning. To kill any dangerous bacteria, corned beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F.
What is Corned Beef?
Corned beef is a salt-cured beef product. It gets its name from the “corns” of salt used to cure the beef. Here’s an overview of how corned beef is made:
- Beef briskets are treated with a salt-based curing blend that contains nitrites (for color and flavor) and sometimes sugar, spices, and other preservatives.
- The beef soaks in the curing mixture for 4-14 days. This both preserves and flavors the meat.
- After curing, the corned beef is rinsed and then cooked by boiling, steaming, or baking before eating.
The curing process gives corned beef its signature pink color and distinctive salty flavor. The beef turns tender and moist during cooking.
Is Uncooked Corned Beef Safe to Eat?
Eating raw corned beef is risky business. Although the curing process preserves the meat, it does not kill all potential foodborne pathogens like Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria.
Here are some of the main food safety issues with raw corned beef:
- Bacteria can contaminate the meat during slaughter or processing.
- Pathogens are not destroyed during curing because it involves salting, not cooking.
- The nitrites used help control Clostridium botulinum bacteria, but other bacteria can still grow.
- Mold can develop if corned beef is cure for too long.
For these reasons, both the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn against consuming raw or undercooked corned beef.
Food Poisoning Risks
Eating raw, improperly cured, or undercooked corned beef can lead to foodborne illnesses with unpleasant symptoms:
- Salmonella – Diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting
- E. coli – Severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), vomiting, fever
- Listeria monocytogenes – Fever, muscle aches, nausea, diarrhea
- Staphylococcus aureus – Nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea
While food poisoning usually resolves on its own, symptoms can last over a week. Severe infections may require hospitalization, especially in those with compromised immune systems.
Raw corned beef can also transmit non-typhoidal Salmonella infections. Though not a true food “poisoning”, this infection can also cause nasty gastrointestinal symptoms.
How to Cook Corned Beef Safely
To enjoy corned beef safely, it’s essential to cook it thoroughly to kill any dangerous bacteria. Here are some tips:
- Bring corned beef to a boil in a pot of water or use a steamer.
- Simmer until fork tender – this can take 2-4 hours for a 3-5 lb brisket.
- Cook to an internal temperature of at least 145°F, checked with a food thermometer.
- If roasted, cook to an internal temperature of 160°F.
- Rest corned beef for 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving.
Cooked corned beef will have a firm but moist texture. The meat should separate easily into slices or shreds.
Safe Food Handling
In addition to thorough cooking, following safe food handling practices helps prevent foodborne illnesses from corned beef:
- Purchase fresh corned beef before the “sell by” date.
- Check that the packaging is not torn or leaking.
- Refrigerate corned beef at 40°F or below and use within 5-7 days.
- Rinse corned beef before cooking to remove excess salt.
- Cook corned beef within 2 hours of putting it in the oven or pot.
- Discard corned beef left at room temperature for over 2 hours.
- Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw and cooked corned beef.
- Refrigerate cooked corned beef within 2 hours and use within 3-4 days.
Following these precautions reduces the chances of foodborne illness. If reheating cooked corned beef, use a food thermometer to ensure it reaches 165°F.
Who is at Risk?
While raw corned beef can make anyone sick, some groups are more likely to develop severe illnesses:
- Young children
- Older adults
- Pregnant women
- People with weakened immune systems
These populations should take extra care to only eat fully cooked corned beef. They should also avoid contaminated surfaces and utensils that have touched raw meat.
At-risk individuals may need to seek medical attention if they develop food poisoning symptoms. In severe cases, hospitalization is required for dehydration or septicemia.
Substitutes for Raw Corned Beef
For those who still wish to enjoy the unique taste of corned beef without the health risks, here are some safe alternatives:
- Cooked corned beef – Buying pre-cooked, sliced corned beef eliminates food poisoning risks. Opt for vacuum-sealed brands to minimize contamination.
- Pastrami – This smoked and steam-cooked cured beef can be eaten without cooking. Look for presliced deli meats.
- Roast beef – Sliced, deli-style roast beef is a safe uncooked beef option. Check labels and only buy meats kept at 41°F or colder.
- Smoked salmon – Thinly sliced smoked salmon from reputable suppliers makes a tasty uncooked substitute. Make sure it has been handled properly.
When unsure about other uncooked or cured meat products, contact the supplier. Always check the inspection labels to confirm meats were processed safely.
Uncooked Corned Beef Recipes to Avoid
Because raw corned beef carries health risks, exercise caution with traditional recipes that use uncooked meat:
- Steak tartare – Raw ground beef dish
- Carpaccio – Thinly sliced raw beef
- Beef sashimi – Raw beef slices
- Kitfo – Ethiopian minced raw beef
- Gored gored – Cubes of raw beef mixed with chilies
- Tige dere – Ethiopian raw beef tartare
- Hollandse biefstuk – Dutch raw beef spread
- Tataki – Lightly seared then sliced raw beef
- Koi soi – Raw beef salad from Laos
- Yukhoe – Korean raw, seasoned beef
The safest approach is to use cooked meats in these dishes. Marinate and slice the beef after it is fully cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145°F.
Eating raw corned beef is risky business and can lead to unpleasant, even life-threatening, foodborne illnesses. Only cook corned beef thoroughly until tender can ensure it is free of dangerous bacteria. Follow proper handling and cooking procedures to enjoy corned beef safely. Those at higher risk for infection should take extra precautions or avoid uncooked meats altogether.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I eat corned beef straight from the package?
No, it is unsafe to eat raw corned beef direct from the package without cooking it first. Raw corned beef may contain pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria, or E. coli that can cause food poisoning. Always cook corned beef thoroughly to an internal temperature of at least 145°F.
Is it OK to eat corned beef if I sear it first?
Searing or lightly cooking corned beef is not enough to make it safe to eat. Bacteria can survive in undercooked meat. To kill any harmful pathogens, corned beef needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F all the way through. Use a meat thermometer to verify doneness.
Can I eat leftover corned beef without reheating?
Only eat leftover corned beef that has been refrigerated at 40°F or below. The USDA recommends reheating cooked corned beef to 165°F before eating to ensure safety. Leftover corned beef should be eaten within 3 to 4 days for best quality. Discard if it develops an off smell or flavor.
What happens if I eat bad corned beef?
Eating spoiled, raw, or undercooked corned beef can cause foodborne illness. Symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps may start 12-72 hours after ingesting bacteria from the meat. See a doctor if symptoms are severe or persist longer than 3 days.
How long can I store an unopened corned beef package?
An unopened corned beef package can be stored for 2 to 3 months in the refrigerator at 35°F to 40°F. Check the expiration or use by date and don’t use if it has passed. An unopened package can be kept 6 to 12 months in the freezer at 0°F. Discard if the packaging is torn.
- Do not eat corned beef straight from the package without cooking – it is not safe.
- Raw corned beef may harbor Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, and other bacteria that cause foodborne illness.
- Cook corned beef to at least 145°F internal temperature, as measured by a food thermometer, to kill harmful bacteria.
- Follow safe food handling practices like refrigerating promptly and using separate utensils to prevent contamination.
- Certain groups like children, the elderly, and those with weak immune systems are at higher risk for infection.
- Enjoy risk-free alternatives like cooked corned beef, roast beef, and smoked salmon instead of uncooked meat.