Nothing beats a medium rare steak – its soft, juicy and simply delicious (to me anyway). Perhaps medium rare isn’t your thing, but there is nothing wrong with eating steak medium rare – still raw on the inside. People eat barely cooked beef everyday, and no one bats an eyelid. Say you want a medium rare pork chop, or ‘pink’ chicken breast on the other hand, and people gasp, shake their head and say ‘you can’t do that!’ They are right of course, but why is it safe to eat raw beef (and raw lamb for that matter), and not raw pork or chicken?
All food comes with a risk of food poisoning to some extent, even salads. Truth is raw beef is only safer than eating raw pork/ chicken, and there still is a risk of food poisoning, just to a lesser extent. So the real question should really be why is raw beef less likely to give food poisoning than raw pork or chicken?
Beef meat is very dense, more dense than chicken or pork. In fact, beef is so dense that bacteria cannot penetrate beyond the surface. This means that as long as the surface of the beef is cooked properly there is an incredibly small chance of food poisoning. However, the skin of raw beef often does contain common pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli, which if not killed by cooking, can cause illness.
There is evidence that certain strains of bacteria can break down muscle fibres of meat, and penetrate the meat after 36 hours of being at room temperature. This shows that although fresh or chilled beef might be ok to eat
raw rare, any beef which has been left out for any length of time should be thoroughly cooked! Even if the meat is left out less than 36 hours, the meat will not have been instantly chilled in the butchers, and would have most likely already spent some time at room temperature, allowing the populations of these bacteria to grow. Play it safe, and keep your beef in the fridge until you want to eat it.
Beef is rather low in parasites, whereas other meats (pork in particular) can contain some nasty parasites such as Trichinella spiralis (sometimes known as ‘pork-worm’), Taenia solium (tapeworm) and Toxoplasma gondii. Despite food hygiene getting better and better, these parasites will still likely be present in the meat, and so pork needs to be cooked right through to avoid infecting yourself with these parasites.
Beef doesn’t contain these parasites and this is because cows have a much more complex digestive system compared to chickens and pigs. The cows digestive system might be too hostile for these parasites to survive. Also, pigs are scavengers, and eat pretty much anything, whereas cow (and sheep) are more fussy, and just like eating grass. With pigs eating anything and everything, they have a much higher chance of picking up parasites.
It is safest to eat a cut of rare beef, such as a steak, rather than a processed food product such as a burger or minced beef. The reason for this is that a steak will have come from one cow, and the chances of this cow having a disease is very low. However, processed beef products contain many many cows. If just one of these cows is contaminated, it will contaminate the entire batch of mince. The chances are still low that beef mince will cause food poisoning, but not as low as eating steak.
Raw beef and lamb are safe to eat because the meat is very dense, and bacteria struggle to penetrate the surface. If the surface is cooked, then the middle should be safe to eat raw as long as it hasn’t been sat out at room temperature for a long time. Beef and lamb are also unlikely to contain any parasites due to their complex stomach system and fussy eating habits, whereas pigs are almost guaranteed to contain parasites.