Why Wisconsin Officials Say You Shouldn't Eat A 'Cannibal Sandwich'

Whether you call it a "cannibal sandwich," "tiger meat," or "steak tartare," please don't eat it, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said this week. The raw meat sandwiches that some Wisconsin residents consider a family tradition could contain bacteria from undercooked meat that could make them ill (via The Guardian).

Health officials in Wisconsin said on Facebook and other social media that this was an "annual reminder" that eating raw meat sandwiches "poses a threat for Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter and Listeria bacteria that can make you sick. (And, no, it doesn't matter where you buy your beef!)."

Ground beef should always be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid food poisoning, diarrhea, or foodborne disease, the health department said (via its website). Since 1986, eight outbreaks of food poisoning linked to eating a raw ground beef dish have been reported in Wisconsin; one Salmonella outbreak during December 1994 involved more than 150 people, the department said.

Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) in 2019 noted that the "polarizing and misunderstood" tradition that dated back to northern Europeans in the area was making a comeback. The sandwich, also known as a "wildcat" sandwich, takes a slice of rye bread topped with a thick smear of fresh raw beef and topped with chopped onion, salt, and pepper.

Raw ground beef carries a risk of E. coli and other bacteria

Jeff Zupan, operations manager of Bunzel's Meat Market in Milwaukee, told the radio station that the market sells more than 1,000 lbs. of raw beef and 250 lbs. of raw onions just for these sandwiches. He likes them, but noted, "At first you look at it like, excuse me? I'm supposed to do what with that?"  

The health department suggested cooking the beef with the same toppings and spices instead of serving it raw. One commenter on Facebook called the dish "totally gross" and added, "Plus, it sits out on a table, sometimes for hours." Another commenter said that in Germany, people eat the sandwich year-round, but your best bet, even if this is a beloved family holiday tradition, is to partake in new traditions that won't risk your health.

The consensus from experts — whether it's the Wisconsin Department of Health Services or the CDC or the WHO — is that meat must be thoroughly cooked before consuming, and any efforts you make in order to eat raw hamburger with the least amount of risk is still far too much risk to take.