Are Humans Able to Eat Raw Meat?

With vegan, paleo and other diets based on unprocessed ingredients steadily increasing in popularity, it seems like the days of highly refined foods are numbered. These days, people want simple meals with an even simpler story; one with just a few short steps between farm and plate. It’s a movement that’s leading to ‘new’ (or rather, prehistoric) ways of cooking, eating and preparing food.

Raw foodism – ‘rawism’ as it’s known in some circles – is a dietary practice of eating mostly food that is uncooked and unprocessed. Controversially, this includes meat, particularly beef, and fish. Naturally, it raises the question, are humans able to eat raw meat? For many decades, health agencies have told us it’s unsafe to do so. Is this still the case?

After all, some partially cooked or raw foods have long been enjoyed. Sushi, prosciutto, and steak tartare all contain raw components. Health concerns appear rare, however, as long as ingredients are responsibly sourced.

So, what’s the real truth? Is it safe for humans to consume raw meat? It depends on the type of meat (fish beef, chicken or pork), how each meat type was slaughtered stored and prepared. Concerning are the microbes and parasites that each kind of meat product may carry. Fish tends to be the least dangerous followed by beef, chicken, and pork. 

Moreover, are there any benefits to eating raw? This article takes a closer look at the practice of eating raw meat, its associated health concerns and the role it could play in survival scenarios.

What Are the Dangers of Eating Raw Meat?

The risks associated with eating raw meat come from contamination with foreign germs, microbes, and bacteria. Perhaps the most common misunderstanding about raw meat is that humans cannot physically digest it. This isn’t the case. Humans started to cook their food specifically to lower or eliminate the risk of sickness via contamination.

However, these contaminants are not automatically present in our meat or other foods. The clue is in the name; they develop when food is exposed to dangerous substances. If meat, in particular, is raised, slaughtered, produced and stored with extreme care, harmful contaminants can be kept out.

When this is the case, the meat doesn’t need to be cooked to make it safe for consumption. It can be eaten raw without risk. The problem with this, of course, is most consumers get a very limited view of how their meat products are produced. They have to put their trust in food regulators, food standards and food safety organizations.

It’s easier – and less risky – for these agencies to simply warn against eating any raw meat, even though the reality is more complicated. Not to mention, it costs more money to raise livestock in environments which guarantee the elimination of all contaminants. It’s not inherently unsafe to eat raw meat. It’s unsafe to eat raw meat in many of the ways we’re accustomed to it being produced.

For those not so adventurous, it is best to have most meat cooked. If you are in the outdoors camping, hiking for the day you might want to have on hand a simple and portable cooker you can easily use with little hassle with simple twigs and pieces of wood. I recommend one that is can be found on Amazon. Click here for the latest pricing.

Could You Eat Raw Meat in a Survival Situation?

For survival situations – particularly any kind of scenario that disrupts the government and affects utilities and key resources – it means eating raw meat would carry a risk of sickness and, in extreme cases, death by food poisoning. That is unless you could somehow be sure the food was produced in such a way as to be free of dangerous contaminants.

Interestingly, the continued evolution of meat production and modern farming practices is seeing more producers raise animals in safer, cleaner conditions. Free range livestock, for example, is at significantly lower risk of contamination than caged animals. It’s why dishes like steak tartare or carpaccio are regularly eaten in high-end restaurants which, again, can guarantee the ingredients are responsibly sourced and prepared.

In any kind of survival situation, it’s best to cook your meat thoroughly to avoid uncertainty and the risk of sickness. Practice basic food safety and hygiene procedures as far as possible, even if you no longer have access to your regular facilities. Wash hands thoroughly, especially after handling raw meat. Keep raw meat separate from other ingredients; use different surfaces and cooking implements. Make sure to store meat in cool conditions (below 7°C).

Are There Any Raw Meats I Should Definitely Avoid?

There are some types of people for whom eating raw meat is strongly discouraged in all circumstances. Children, elderly people, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are advised not to take the risk, regardless of where the food originates. Even small amounts of bacteria, which may be tolerable for most stomachs, can make these types of people very sick indeed.

It’s also important to remember some types of meat are inherently more dangerous than others. Pork, for instance, is rarely eaten raw because it carries a very high risk of contamination with trichinella – a parasitic worm that lives in the gut. In just a handful of countries with extremely stringent meat production practices (Japan and Germany being the most well-known), pork is sometimes consumed raw. Although Japan recently banned eateries from serving pork sashimi due to concerns about contamination sickness.

Similarly, chicken is occasionally served raw in a handful of regions but, like pork, it tends to be considered too high risk. Campylobacter, salmonella and E. coli in uncooked chicken poses a serious danger to health. Generally speaking, beef, lamb, fish and shellfish are thought to pose the least risk when eaten raw.

Deer should not be eaten raw in any circumstance. The risk of serious sickness is too high even in a serious survival situation. The only time to consider raw deer is in the gravest of scenarios when starvation is the only other alternative. Scientists have identified a wasting disease in some deer that’s nicknamed the Zombie Deer Virus. It is likely a type of prion disease, most of which are incurable and lead to death. Don’t take the risk.

Are There Any Benefits to Eating Raw Meat?

The benefits of eating raw meat are debated. There are some who claim it offers more nutrients than cooked meat. Others say the differences are negligible or not present all. There is some evidence to suggest the cooking process destroys certain vitamins and enzymes. Therefore, raw meat may contain more B and C vitamins.

Fish is especially nutrient rich. Raw fish contains high volumes of B12, vitamins A, C and E, selenium, zinc, calcium, and iron. The downside is it also contains more mercury, a contaminant that is also present in cooked fish and can cause sickness in large enough amounts. It is why sushi fans are advised to limit their weekly consumption of raw fish products.

Raw meat tends to be eaten for its flavour, rather than any potential health benefits. It is said that the taste is far richer – almost buttery – and the texture very soft and tender. When asked, enthusiasts often struggle to adequately describe why and how it differs from cooked meat, only that the taste and texture are far superior.

Can I Produce, Prepare and Eat My Own Raw Meat?

This is only recommended for those who produce or hunt for their own meat under very stringent conditions. Basically, you’ve got to be confident your animal is contaminant free and this is not an easy thing at all to know. If you’re determined to prepare and eat raw meat at home, however, be aware that the longer it is kept, the more risks it carries.

For freshly hunted and killed animals, the safest time to consume is immediately after slaughter. The meat has had minimal time to come into contact with contaminants in the atmosphere. The next safest method is to freeze your meat, though this comes with its own problems. Eventually, it will need defrosting and this process, if not carefully controlled, can also introduce bacteria.

The optimal method of storage then is controlled refrigeration; store your raw meat at a temperature below 7°C for no longer than two days. While this should be relatively easy in everyday scenarios, it has the potential to be a lot more difficult in a survival situation. If you can’t rely on electricity from the grid, you may need to create DIY storage solutions.

The Final Verdict on Eating Raw Meat

In a survival situation, without guaranteed access to key utilities, raw meat should be consumed only as a necessity unless you have control of or can guarantee a safe and contaminant free source. In all but the rarest cases, there are just too many variables and unanswered questions. When you’re already trying to figure out things like water, food supplies, electricity, and defense, it’s a concern you just don’t need to introduce.

Eating raw meat as a culinary experiment or for personal enjoyment, on the other hand, can be a safe and legitimate pursuit if ingredients are carefully sourced. The best way to try raw meat, whether it’s sashimi, sushi or carpaccio, is still to visit a reputable restaurant that prepares and serves it with the utmost safety.

And for those camping or hiking and need to have meat even a little cooked, just to be safe, consider a portable cooker you can easily use and fueled by simple sticks and twigs. Click here to find the latest pricing for one I highly recommend on Amazon.

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