Different households have different Christmas traditions. For instance, some people like to hang stockings by the chimney with care, and other people like to eat sandwiches made of raw ground beef. I’m not going to say which of these traditions is right and which is wrong… but the USDA will. This week, the agency once again warned the public against eating raw beef in the form of “cannibal sandwiches.”
For those outside of the Midwest — and especially Wisconsin where the cannibal sandwich is apparently most popular — the dish is essentially a take on steak tartare served on rye or some other bread or cracker. In a 2013 Associated Press report, Milwaukee historian John Gurda described cannibal sandwiches as a festive food with German and Polish roots served during times like weddings, funerals, and, yes, Christmas and New Year’s. Of course, steak tartare is a dish commonly served around the world, but even then, consuming raw meat always comes with some risk, and what appears to make cannibal sandwiches even more problematic is that they are often homemade, potentially leaving questions about where the beef came from and how it was handled and prepared.
So as it has in the past, the USDA has come down hard on the tradition. “With each holiday season, there are hundreds of people in the Midwest who are sickened after eating cannibal sandwiches,” the agency wrote in the warning. “In fact, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services stated that there have been eight outbreaks in that state linked to the consumption of raw ground beef since 1986.”
“Don’t become a statistic this year. Raw meat is never safe to consume,” the USDA continues. “If cannibal sandwiches are a tradition in your home, try this safe alternative: cook the ground beef with the same spices and toppings, until it reaches 160°F, and serve it on top of bread or crackers. You may be surprised to find that it tastes better when cooked! Not to mention, you won’t be risking a trip to the hospital with every mouthful.”
With a visual like that, the USDA certainly makes a convincing case. Still, if the past has taught us anything, it’s that many Midwesterners have another holiday tradition: not listening to the USDA’s advice.