06 December 2013

"Cannibal sandwiches" - a risky Midwestern delicacy

"Cannibal sandwiches," an appetizer featuring raw, lean ground beef served on cocktail bread, may be a Wisconsin tradition, but they are not safe, health officials said, noting that more than a dozen people became ill after consuming them last holiday season.

Health officials confirmed four cases tied to E. coli bacteria and 13 likely cases in people who ate the sandwiches at several gatherings late last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a report issued this week. The meat came from a Watertown market that later recalled more than 2,500 pounds of meat.

Cannibal sandwiches were tied to outbreaks in Wisconsin in 1972, 1978 and 1994. The appetizer, also called "tiger meat," "steak tartare" or simply "ground beef," is usually a simple dish of lean ground meat seasoned with salt and pepper on rye cocktail bread with sliced raw onion, said Milwaukee historian John Gurda, who served it at his 1977 wedding reception. Occasionally, a raw egg will be mixed with the meat.

Cannibal sandwiches have been a festive dish in German, Polish and other ethnic communities in the Milwaukee area since the 19th century... it was once common to see them at wedding receptions, meals following funerals and Christmas and New Year's Eve parties. The dish has become less common in recent years with greater awareness of the risks of uncooked meat and fewer people eating beef, but Gurda said he still runs into it...

His butcher shop sells 50 to 100 pounds of freshly ground round on Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and perhaps a day before those holidays to people wishing to make cannibal sandwiches. Glenn's Market and Catering, the Watertown butcher involved in the recall, does a similar holiday business, vice president Jeff Roberts said.

Both stores label their ground beef with warnings about consuming raw or undercooked meat, but the men said it's unlikely people are buying it to cook. With the fat trimmed off before grinding, the meat is too lean to make a decent hamburger, Meyer said.
More details at the Madison.com source story.  Be aware of this when you attend holiday parties.  E. Coli is no fun.


  1. I've enjoyed steak tartare many times in restaurants and at home; it's perfectly safe and delicious.I might be wary about eating it at a party though, though no more so than for barbecued chicken...

    Never heard it called a cannibal sandwich before!

    First comment (I think) after a couple of years of lurking. Great blog!

    1. re "First comment" - glad to have you on board.


  2. Steak tartare is one tasty treat! I did have one unfortunate incident though where I had to to run home pronto!

  3. fond memories of eating steak tartare with my Dad. long ago and far away.

  4. Here in Germany it's known as Mett ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mett ) and immensely popular and pretty much an every day dish. Incidents like the one mentioned are virtually unkown - maybe because of stronger regulations and checks.

  5. Raw beef steak is safe. Any contaminating bacteria are on the outer surfaces of the meant and are exposed to poor growing conditions. These bacteria will also be exposed to full strength stomach acids. There is little risk in eating raw steak. I eat raw beef heart that I cut myself all the time. But I ear it only on an empty stomach.

    When meat is ground, bacterial contamination is spread throughout the meat where it can breed and our stomach acids cannot get to it right away. This can be disaster for some people.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...