Eating raw or undercooked beef can expose you to harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. However, eating a small amount of raw beef is unlikely to make you sick, though there are some risks involved.
Can you get sick from eating raw beef?
Yes, there is a risk of getting sick from eating raw or undercooked beef. Beef can contain harmful bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and Campylobacter. These bacteria are killed during the cooking process. When beef is eaten raw or undercooked, these bacteria can survive and cause foodborne illness.
The most common bacteria found in raw beef are:
- E. coli – Can cause abdominal cramping, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.
- Salmonella – Can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.
- Listeria – Can cause fever, muscle aches, nausea, and diarrhea.
- Campylobacter – Can cause diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever.
Consuming raw or undercooked beef has been linked to foodborne illness outbreaks. However, the risk of getting sick is generally low if you are eating only a small amount of raw beef.
How much raw beef is dangerous?
There is no guaranteed “safe” amount of raw beef that can be consumed. Any amount of raw beef carries some degree of risk.
However, according to food safety experts, the risk increases when you eat larger amounts of raw or undercooked beef. Eating a few bites of a raw beef dish is less risky than eating a large serving size.
For example, steak tartare is a raw beef dish made from finely chopped or ground raw beef. Eating a small 2-3 oz portion of steak tartare is less likely to cause illness than eating an 8-10 oz portion.
Some key factors determine the level of risk:
- Amount consumed – Risk increases with larger portions
- Preparation method – Finely chopped/ground is riskier than whole cuts of steak
- Where the beef is from – Ground beef carries higher risks
- Your health status – Increased risk for young children, elderly, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems
What are the symptoms of food poisoning from raw beef?
The symptoms of food poisoning from raw beef depend on the particular bacteria involved but may include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Diarrhea – Can be bloody or non-bloody
- Muscle aches
Symptoms usually begin within 1-3 days after eating contaminated raw beef but can occur anywhere from a few hours to a week later. Most people recover fully within a week.
How long after eating raw beef do symptoms appear?
The incubation period (time from ingestion to onset of symptoms) for foodborne illness from raw beef can range from a few hours to a week after consuming the contaminated meat:
- E. coli – Typically 2-8 days
- Salmonella – 6-72 hours
- Listeria – 9-48 hours but can be up to 6 weeks
- Campylobacter – 2-5 days
In most cases, symptoms appear within 1-3 days after exposure. Factors like the type and amount of bacteria ingested can affect the incubation time.
How long do the symptoms last?
For most healthy people, the symptoms of food poisoning from raw beef will last a few days to a week. The duration can vary based on factors like:
- Type of bacteria causing the illness
- Amount of contaminated food eaten
- Overall health and age of the individual
Here is an overview of how long symptoms typically last for common foodborne illnesses contracted from raw beef:
|Illness||Duration of Symptoms|
|E. coli||5-10 days|
|Listeria||Short-term but can persist for 2-6 weeks|
In severe cases or individuals with compromised immune systems, symptoms can last several weeks. Seek medical care if symptoms persist longer than a week or get progressively worse.
When should you see a doctor?
Most cases of food poisoning from raw beef can be managed at home with rest, hydration, and over-the-counter medications. However, you should contact your doctor if you experience:
- Blood in diarrhea
- Diarrhea lasting more than 3 days
- Fever over 101.5°F
- Signs of dehydration – dizziness, excessive thirst, dry mouth, little to no urination
- Inability to keep liquids down
- Neurological symptoms like numbness, tingling, paralysis, or seizures
- Persistent vomiting
- Symptoms that don’t improve after a week
Seeking early medical treatment is especially important for high-risk groups such as young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with autoimmune disorders. Foodborne illness can progress to more serious complications like sepsis, meningitis, reactive arthritis, and hemolytic uremic syndrome in vulnerable populations.
How is food poisoning from raw beef treated?
Most cases of food poisoning from raw beef are self-limiting and resolve with home treatment:
- Hydration – Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Oral rehydration solutions can help replace lost electrolytes.
- Over-the-counter medications – Take anti-diarrheal, antacids, pain relievers as needed for symptoms.
- Dietary changes – Stick to bland, easy to digest foods until symptoms resolve.
- Rest – Get plenty of rest to allow your body to heal.
In more severe cases, hospitalization and intravenous fluids may be needed. Antibiotics are not typically prescribed unless there are signs of a invasive illness or the immune system is compromised.
Reduce the risk of dehydration and malnutrition, especially in infants, children and elderly patients. Seek immediate care if blood appears in stool, symptoms are prolonged, or fever spikes above 101°F.
How can you prevent food poisoning from raw beef?
You can lower the risk of foodborne illness from raw beef with these food safety practices:
- Cook beef to the recommended internal temperature – 145°F for steaks and roasts, 160°F for ground beef.
- Avoid consuming raw or undercooked beef.
- Prevent cross-contamination by separating raw beef from other foods.
- Refrigerate or freeze beef promptly after purchasing.
- Thaw frozen beef safely – in the fridge, cold water, or microwave.
- Marinate beef in the refrigerator.
- Wash hands, utensils, counters after handling raw beef.
At-risk groups including pregnant women, young children, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems should take particular care to avoid consuming raw or undercooked beef.
What kind of raw beef is riskiest to eat?
Not all raw beef carries the same level of risk. Some types of raw beef dishes and preparation methods are more hazardous than others.
The riskiest types of raw beef include:
- Ground beef – Ground beef has more surface area exposed to potential bacterial contamination. E. coli outbreaks are most commonly linked to raw ground beef consumption.
- Beef carpaccio – Thinly sliced raw beef. Decreased thickness means less time for heat to penetrate and kill bacteria.
- Beef tartare – Finely chopped or ground raw beef. More extensive processing exposes more area to contamination.
- Kibbeh – Middle Eastern dish with minced raw beef or lamb. Similar risks as beef tartare.
Whole cuts of raw beef like steak generally pose less of a food poisoning risk. However, they are still not considered safe to eat raw and carry risks if contaminated.
Can you eat beef raw if prepared safely?
Proper food handling and preparation techniques can reduce but not eliminate the risks of consuming raw beef. Steps like washing, trimming, and searing can decrease the likelihood of foodborne illness.
However, no preparation method makes raw beef entirely safe because bacteria can still be present internally in the meat. The only way to fully kill harmful germs in beef is by cooking to recommended temperatures.
For highest safety, the USDA thus advises against eating raw or undercooked beef. Certain people with heightened vulnerability such as elderly, young children, and pregnant women should take particular care to avoid raw beef.
Does searing or blue rare beef make it safer?
Searing or cooking beef rare does not make it safe to consume. Searing refers to browning the exterior at high heat. A blue rare steak is quickly seared on the outside while remaining cool and raw on the inside.
Searing and blue rare cooking can help reduce bacteria on the outer surface of the beef. However, it does not kill bacteria within the inner meat. Any beef that is cooked below the recommended safe internal temperatures can still potentially cause foodborne disease.
Can you get sick from eating aged beef raw?
Aged beef may be lower risk but is not considered safe to eat raw. Dry-aging involves storing beef for several weeks to tenderize meat and develop flavor.
Aged beef has less surface bacteria than fresh beef. However, harmful pathogens could still be present internally after aging. There have been food poisoning outbreaks linked to improperly dry-aged beef.
It is also possible for dangerous bacteria to contaminate the meat during processing, handling, or cutting after the aging process. For highest safety, dry-aged beef should still be fully cooked before eating.
Is raw beef safe if it is high quality?
Higher quality beef is generally safer, but no raw beef is risk-free. Factors like the source, handling, and packaging impact safety:
- Beef from grass-fed, organic, or local cows may have less bacteria.
- Properly butchered and trimmed cuts can lower contamination.
- Vacuum-sealed packaging prevents cross-contamination.
However, it is impossible to guarantee beef is pathogen-free without cooking it thoroughly. There is no evidence that organic, grass-fed, or expensive beef is safe to consume raw.
Can you eat steak tartare when pregnant?
It is best avoid eating steak tartare or any other raw beef when pregnant. Harmful bacteria in raw beef can be particularly dangerous during pregnancy.
Foodborne illnesses while pregnant may increase risk of:
- Preterm labor
- Birth defects
Pregnant women are also more vulnerable to severe complications from food poisoning like kidney failure and meningitis.
If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, always cook beef thoroughly to the recommended safe internal temperatures.
While the chance of getting sick from eating a small bite of steak tartare or carpaccio is low in healthy individuals, consuming raw or undercooked beef does carry risks. Cooking meat to proper temperatures is the only way to fully destroy illness-causing pathogens. Your best bet is to avoid raw meats, especially if you are in a high-risk group. Practice safe food handling and preparation when cooking beef to minimize chances of foodborne disease.