Health authorities recommend cooking beef to kill any harmful bacteria that can cause severe illness or even death.
However, some people claim that it’s completely safe, more delicious, and more beneficial to health to eat raw or uncooked beef rather than its cooked counterpart.
This article explains whether it’s safe to eat raw beef and examines if doing so offers health benefits beyond those associated with eating cooked beef.
Raw beef dishes are popular worldwide (
A few of the most common ones include:
- Amsterdam ossenworst: raw beef sausage originating from Amsterdam
- Carpaccio: a traditional Italian appetizer consisting of thinly sliced raw beef or fish
- Kachilaa: a delicacy of the Newari community consisting of raw minced water buffalo meat
- Pittsburgh rare: steak that is briefly heated at a high temperature but served still raw or rare on the inside
- Steak tartare: raw minced beef served with raw egg yolk, onions, and other seasonings
- Tiger meat: raw beef commonly mixed with seasonings then served on crackers, also known as a cannibal sandwich
While some restaurants may offer these dishes, there is no guarantee that they are safe to eat.
Consuming raw beef is dangerous, as it can harbor illness-causing bacteria, including Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli), Shigella, and Staphylococcus aureus, all of which are otherwise destroyed with heat during the cooking process (
Ingestion of these bacteria can lead to foodborne illness, more commonly known as food poisoning.
Symptoms like upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting, which can range from mild to severe, can occur within 30 minutes to 1 week after consuming contaminated raw beef (
Steaks should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145°F (63°C) and allowed to sit for 3 minutes before cutting or consuming, while ground beef should be cooked to at least 160°F (71°C) (6).
Cooking a steak to a minimum internal temperature of 135°F (57°C) for medium-rare, or 125°F (52°C) for rare, still increases your risk of foodborne illness but to a much lesser degree than consuming it raw.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that populations susceptible to developing foodborne illnesses completely avoid raw or undercooked beef (7).
These include pregnant women, young children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems (7).
While raw beef dishes remain popular across the world, they can harbor a number of illness-causing bacteria.
Beef is a high quality source of protein that contains several vitamins and minerals.
A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked ground beef with 16–20% fat content contains (
- Calories: 244
- Protein: 24 grams
- Fat: 16 grams
- Carbs: 0 grams
- Sugars: 0 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Iron: 14% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Phosphorus: 16% of the DV
- Potassium: 7% of the DV
- Zinc: 55% of the DV
- Copper: 8% of the DV
- Selenium: 36% of the DV
- Riboflavin: 14% of the DV
- Niacin: 34% of the DV
- Choline: 14% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 21% of the DV
- Vitamin B12: 115% of the DV
Proponents of eating raw beef claim that its nutrients are more readily available to your body for digestion and absorption.
Research comparing nutrient absorption from raw and cooked beef is scarce, as it would be unethical to provide humans with raw beef knowing its risk of serious illness or death.
However, research on the topic has been conducted in mice.
One older study noted that the activity of glutathione peroxidase — a major antioxidant in the body — was significantly lower in mice with selenium deficiency.
These mice were fed either raw or cooked ground beef for 8 weeks to restore selenium levels, which increased the antioxidant activity of glutathione.
It was found that selenium repletion from raw beef increased glutathione peroxidase by 127%, compared with 139% in mice provided the cooked ground beef (
It’s currently unknown whether these results translate to humans deficient in selenium or other nutrients.
Proponents of raw beef consumption also claim that the process of cooking beef decreases its nutrient content.
One study assessing the vitamin B12 content of raw and grilled or broiled beef found no significant differences between them, except for when the beef was fried, which decreased the vitamin B12 content by 32%, compared with raw beef (
Similarly, an older study found no significant difference in the folate contents of raw and grilled beef. Beef contains low amounts of this vitamin (
Finally, beef’s protein content tends to be less digestible when the meat is cooked at a high temperature for a long time, compared with when it’s cooked at a lower temperature for a short time.
One human study found that the protein in beef was moderately less digestible when it was cooked at 194°F (90°C) for 30 minutes compared with 131°F (55°C) for 5 minutes (
Studies nutritionally comparing cooked and raw beef have found no significant differences for vitamin B12 (except when fried) or folate. Beef’s protein content may become less digestible when the meat is cooked at high temperatures for a long time.
Raw foods of animal origin, such as beef, are the most likely to be contaminated with illness-causing bacteria.
Therefore, health authorities advise against consuming raw beef and other meats.
The claim that eating raw beef is healthier than cooked beef in terms of its nutrient availability and content is not supported by current research.