The CDC released a report stating that Wisconsin residents are getting sick from sandwiches that are typically eaten around the holidays. The sandwiches referred to as “cannibal sandwiches” are made with raw hamburger and records from the CDC suggest that this tradition has led to over 50 cases of illness since 1972.
A cannibal sandwich is made with rye cocktail bread topped with a layer of raw ground beef, some raw onions, salt and pepper. The sandwich is also sometimes made with a raw egg mixed into the ground beef.
This sandwich while most commonly referred to as a cannibal sandwich is also called “steak tartare” or “tiger meat.” It became popular during the 19th century amongst Polish and German ethnic communities in Wisconsin and other areas in the upper Midwest. Anyone with misgivings about the sandwich is wise.
This holiday tradition is one which the CDC would be happy for people to abandon. It can ruin a holiday by causing severe intestinal illness that could land the consumer in the hospital or potentially lead to death. The CDC reported at least four cases of illness due to E. coli bacteria and 13 suspected cases in holiday parties late last year. Wisconsin residents are repeatedly getting sick from the sandwiches which are known to pose a risk.
It is always recommended that ground beef be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees and that temperature should be verified with a food thermometer. These strict rules have made it difficult to order beef in restaurants that is anything less than “well done,” but it is meant to protect people. Following this advice would put an end to the cannibal sandwich holiday tradition since cooked hamburger just isn’t the same. Most people won’t miss it, but to many Midwesterners it is part of ta long time holiday tradition.
The CDC did not mention whether the illnesses are thought to be due to the meat or the raw egg in the sandwich, but both are foods they advise against consuming.
If anyone is really intent upon eating a “cannibal sandwich” they are best advised to use meat that has been irradiated and been properly refrigerated prior to consumption. Any person more susceptible to illness such as very young children or the elderly should avoid it altogether as E. coli could prove to be deadly for them.
For those intent on eating cannibal sandwiches it is important to get treatment if they end up getting sick. Symptoms of E. coli infection include stomach cramps and diarrhea. In severe cases it can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and kidney failure.
The CDC said “despite ongoing outreach efforts addressing the dangers associated with consuming undercooked or raw ground beef, this regional holiday tradition continues to be associated with outbreaks.” Only 50 outbreaks of illness concentrated in 1972, 1978, 1994, and 2012 is not likely to be motivation enough to take this dish off the line at a holiday gathering.
Paul Whitefield of the L.A. Times said “only 50? Heck, more people get sick eating bad cantaloupes and spinach.” It is true that many people get sick more frequently from things that would not normally be considered dangerous. Over 1,000 people die each year just from removing snow, but the CDC is not spending time telling people to put down their shovels.
Eating cannibal sandwiches is a risk many people will probably continue to take. Even if 50 Wisconsin residents got sick and died from eating these sandwiches the tradition would likely continue. It is difficult to get people to stop doing something that they enjoy and this is so steeped in tradition that a few tales of illness are unlikely to deter a true cannibal sandwich enthusiast.
By Lara Stielow