The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (WDHS) issued an annual warning with Christmas and the holiday season upon us about the serious risks of a holiday tradition of eating raw ground beef sandwiches.

Cannibal sandwich/WDHS
Cannibal sandwich/WDHS

Better known as “Cannibal” or “Tiger Meat” sandwiches, this traditional food has been linked to foodborne disease outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella infections, including an outbreak that involved 150 people in 1994. Outbreaks have also been reported in 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1994, 2012 and 2013.

Cannibal or Tiger Meat Sandwiches typically consist of raw ground beef topped with salt, pepper and onions, served on rye bread or crackers.

LISTEN: Abbey Canon, DVM, MPH, LT, United States Public Health Service, Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer, CDC and Bureau of Communicable Diseases and Emergency Response, Wisconsin Division of Public Health talks about cannibal sandwiches in 2013

“We strongly discourage state residents from eating raw or undercooked ground beef. Older adults, pregnant women, children, and people with weakened immune systems are at even greater risk of illness from germs found in raw or undercooked meat”, said State Health Officer Karen McKeown. DHS urges those who are cooking any meat to use a meat thermometer. Color is not a reliable indicator that meat is properly cooked.

Follow these guidelines to avoid illness from the meat you prepare and serve:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap before and after handling raw meat.
  • Image/CDC

    Cook all meat, poultry and wild game to the proper internal temperature(link is external) and use a meat thermometer. Don’t use color as an indicator that meat has reached a safe temperature.

    • Cook ground meat and meat mixtures (e.g., ground beef, pork, veal, lamb) to 160°F.
    • Cook all whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb to 145°F plus a 3 minute rest.
    • Cook all poultry (e.g., chicken, turkey, duck) and wild game meat to 165°F.
  • Frozen meat should be cooked one and a half times longer than it takes to prepare thawed food. Whole turkey is an exception, as it must be completely thawed before cooking.
  • Eating raw or undercooked wild game meat can also result in illness, including Salmonella, Trichinella, and E. coli infections.
  • Keep raw meat away from other foods that will not be cooked.
  • Wash all work surfaces, cutting boards, and utensils with hot soapy water.
  • Divide leftovers into small portions so they will cool more quickly and put them in the refrigerator as soon as possible. Don’t cool leftovers on the kitchen counter.
  • Cover leftovers to reheat. This helps maintain moisture and ensures the meat is heated all the way through.

Symptoms of foodborne illness can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever. Contact your healthcare provider if you become ill, especially if you experience diarrhea that lasts more than a few days or is bloody, or if you develop a high fever.