Cannibal sandwiches have been sickening Wisconsin residents since the 1970s. According to a brief report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this popular holiday appetizer, which is basically raw, ground beef with a slice of onion served on cocktail bread, was responsible for nearly 15 E. coli illnesses during the 2012 holiday season.
At least 50 cases of food borne illnesses in the 1970s and 1994 have been attributed to the consumption of cannibal sandwiches. During the 2012 holiday season, the tainted meat evidently came from a local market in Wisconsin, which had to recall over 2,000 pounds of meat.
Midwest residents, where the appetizer is popular, are advised to stop consuming cannibal sandwiches. Eating raw beef is not safe, as raw meat should always be thoroughly cooked before eating. When the cannibal sandwich started becoming popular, residents were not aware of the dangers of consuming raw meat. Now, Midwest meat markets display signs warning against consumption of raw meat.
The cannibal sandwich, also known as “tiger meat” or “steak tartare,” apparently began in the German and Polish communities of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as far back as the 19th century. According to John Gurda, a Milwaukee historian, the cannibal sandwich was once popular during Christmas and New Year’s parties, and even funerals, but as Wisconsin residents became more aware of the danger of consuming raw meat, it is not as popular these days.
“It’s like a coarse pate and when you put the onions on, there’s a crunch as well and that kind of cuts the softness,” Gurda said.
For the elderly, E. coli illness can be dangerous as it can lead to kidney failure, especially for those with weak immune systems. For a healthy person, symptoms include stomach cramping and diarrhea.
The importance of food safety
The issue of food safety awareness is crucial to keeping the public healthy. According to the CDC, “roughly 1 out of 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of food borne diseases.” That is a high and troubling number and the public would be well advised to learn how to prevent food borne illness during food preparation.
The E. coli bacteria are among other food borne pathogens that can cause death: Salmonella, Listeria, Toxoplasma, norovirus, and Campylobacter.
When considering food safety, be aware that food such as eggs, milk, poultry, and meat are sources that cause food borne illness. This is due to animal and even human feces being in these foods. The norovirus is spread by humans. While considering this, it is relatively easy to prevent food borne illness.
According to Barbara Mahon, a pediatrician and infectious disease epidemiologist with the CDC, there are precautions one can take to prevent food borne illness. Washing hands, for instance, before food preparation and especially after using the bathroom, is extremely important. Produce needs to be washed thoroughly, even if it’s organic, and avoid cross contamination. Wipe down all counters with anti-bacterial cleanser after preparing raw meat.
By Juana Poareo