EATING RAW MEATS & FISH
Bacterial contamination has become a common occurrence
Millions of years ago, raw meats and fish were considered a normal part of the human diet. As time progressed, cooking was discovered, and agriculture grew and developed, which caused us to evolve in our tastes and needs. During this time, food safety needs also changed drastically. What was once considered safe now requires more caution and cooking.
Over the centuries, our planet has greatly changed, as we have created the modern conveniences we enjoy today. These modern conveniences polluted the waters where fish reside. The fish that were once safe to consume raw now contain a variety of foodborne illnesses, most of which can be prevented with proper cooking. Bacterial contamination in meats also became a more common occurrence, and many of these bacteria grew to become antibiotic-resistant. The scarier truth about antibiotic-resistant bacteria is that a foodborne illness from these meats likely cannot be treated with typical medications. The best way to prevent foodborne illness is to cook meats and fish to their proper temperatures.
Fish: Raw fish may still be safe if purchased from reputable suppliers and if you are in good health, but there is still a risk for foodborne illness. If you choose to eat raw fish, try to consume fish that has been previously frozen, as the freezing process does kill some harmful microorganisms present, minimizing your risk of getting sick. For oysters, some are treated for safety after harvest, which may or may not be stated on the package label. This treatment will kill some pathogens present, but not all of them. The most effective way to reduce your risk for foodborne illness in fish is to cook seafood thoroughly. Cooked fish with fins need to reach an internal temperature of 145 F. Crabs, lobster and shrimp are cooked enough when their flesh is opaque and pearly. For mussels, oysters and clams, it is advised to cook until the shells have opened during cooking. Scallops are cooked to safety when the flesh is opaque and firm or milky white.
Meat: We know that raw meats can be dangerous, but what about the juicy steak that is cooked until it is just medium-rare? Surprisingly, these foods may have cooked to safety, and the best indicator is the internal temperature of the meat. Using a food thermometer ensures that harmful bacteria like E. Coli and salmonella are destroyed. The outer or inner color of meats, the color of their juices, or their texture do not determine if a meat has been safely cooked. Taking the temperature of your meats also helps avoid overcooking. For steaks, chops, pork, ham and roasts, cook until the internal temperature is 145 F for three minutes. For poultry, the internal temperature needs to reach 165 F. Ground beef, pork, lamb and veal need to be cooked until the temperature reaches 165 F. The internal temperature for ground meats is higher than other meats because the process of grinding can introduce the bacteria that once resided on the surface of a meat into the entire product.
In general, it is advised to cook all fish and meats until they’ve reached doneness, and this is especially important for those at higher risk for foodborne illness, including young children, pregnant women, elderly adults and people with compromised immune systems due to a medical condition or treatment. Young children, pregnant women and elderly adults all experience changes in their immune system, which can make them more susceptible to foodborne illness. Typical medical conditions and treatments that weaken the immune system include HIV/ AIDS, diabetes, cancer and transplants. For any of these populations, severe illness can result from consuming raw or undercooked fish, shellfish or meats. Raw fish consumption is never advised for individuals from any of these groups.
With the growing popularity of primal lifestyles, questions may be raised on whether raw meats and fish are actually safe to consume. Despite the robust qualities of our distant raw-food-consuming ancestors, many other factors play into the safety of our meats and fish today. Bacteria and illness have evolved, as well as our bodies. To ensure the safety of meats and fish, use a thermometer and the guidelines to ensure your foods are cooked thoroughly.
Abigail McAlister is an asssistant extension agent (general nutrition) for the LSU AgCenter. Her main focus is adult nutrition education and promotion in Caddo and Bossier parishes. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.