College College Biology and Chemistry College Society and the World TSS

Meat Your Maker

Why should we avoid eating raw meat? Learn about the bacteria associated with raw meat consumption and study the theories behind why we can no longer consume raw meat.

Pretend you are in America. You hop on the airplane flying to Seoul, South Korea, where you will give a potential revolutionary presentation at a globally-recognized conference. How exciting, right? While cramped up in between two other passengers and repeatedly go over what you’re going to sa…

 

-ERROR-

 

The oxygen masks fling out. Everyone shrieks in fear. The pilot-in-command alerts all passengers that in about 10 seconds, the airplane will crash…

 

KABLOOSHCRASHSMASHCRACKLEPOPHELLOCRACKDESTROYFATLKENNYYOURIMAGINATIONISTOOWILD

 

 

“Hey, wake up… are you okay?”

 

You wake up on an island and staring at you is this half-naked Tarzan dude who seemed to have tirelessly attempted waking you up for countless hours. Right next to you is the crashed airplane, but you don’t see other passengers around you.

 

The Tarzan dude says it’s dinner time, so he went out and hunted a lion. The lion still has some coloration, but you suspect that it’s been at least a couple hours before the dude hunted it. The Tarzan dude chomps on the meat loin and offers you some. What should you do?

 

Don’t eat it. Duh. But can you explain why you shouldn’t? If not, don’t worry! Hopefully you will after reading this article.

 

Perhaps the reason is clear as it gets: raw meat is susceptible to harmful bacteria for our bodies. Consumption of raw meat can lead to salmonella, Escherichia coli (commonly known as E. coli; if you want to get really specific, E. coli O157:H7… and hundreds of more), tapeworms inside your body, or Hepatitis E (1). The universal symptom for these foodborne illnesses is diarrhea accompanied with nausea and painful abdominal cramps.

 

Fortunately, these bacteria and parasites aren’t inside animal muscles; instead, they dwell on either the surface of the whole meat or in the guts of the animal (1). That’s why eating even a blue rare steak is edible and generally safe to eat. But make sure you tell the butcher not to poke the animal’s intestines or else that perfectly fine blue rare steak can take you to an interesting date with your toilet, and certainly not a fun one.

 

Packaged meat is, unfortunately, more susceptible to be infected with these bacteria and parasites. Your canned meat could possibly be a mix of a bunch of cow meat, and if one of those cows was infected, that entire can of meat will go foul too (1). This is a classic example of cross-contamination.

 

If you are ever to have the choice to get mechanically tenderized meat, don’t do it. Essentially, you’d be asking for meat that was tenderized by a machine with either a needle or blade, and you’ll be risking the contaminants seeping into the muscle tissue if such case were to come (1). Since the parasites and bacteria will already be colonizing the meat, just searing off the meat won’t save you from the dreaded toilet date. I guess you could make a well-done steak or whatever meat, but no one likes well-done (sorry well-done lovers; medium-rare for life!).

 

So why can’t we eat raw meat? After all, carnivores can eat raw meat just fine.

 

Evolution plays a huge role in the biological roles of our world. Due to evolution, carnivores have well-adapted to consuming raw meat. For instance, vultures and lions have stomachs capable of actually sterilizing the raw meat, allowing them to still enjoy their predator’s flesh without also enjoying a fair date with a toilet (2). Carnivores also generally have acids 10x stronger than that of a human, as well as shorter guts, allowing for none of the consumed meat to rot (3). Sadly, since we are omnivores, we cannot biologically attain such acidic capabilities (3).

 

However, it is important to note that these carnivores will still carry a foodborne disease with them, which is typically why we avoid eating carnivores (2). Unless you eat the flesh of a carnivore immediately after you hunted it, all with the carnivore having always eaten it’s predator as fresh as it could possible be (3). Yikes, good luck with eating a tiger, which can go up to 670 lbs.

 

So anthropologists, have you discovered something fishy, or should I say, “meaty”? Ba dum tss.

 

Before our ancestors discovered fire, they ate raw meat. Why can’t we eat both raw meat and cooked meat?

 

There are several theories that help us explain why. Once our ancestors began cooking meat, our brain began developing into bigger and more complex ones (2). This claim supports another theory that cooked meat breaks down tough protein strands so that we can digest the meat and take in the nutrition we need. Therefore, we continue to eat cooked meat, so we lost our ability to consume raw meat. This also explains why our jaw strength grew weaker and weaker as humans continued evolving.

 

“So Kenny, then why can we eat raw fish? You know, like in sushi?”

 

Excellent question. A couple things why raw fish is generally safe to eat: to be honest, just the way it is. Since fish is not a land animal, it does not carry the microorganisms that infects us with a date to our toilets (1). They’re also caught in much colder environments and even frozen afterwards, killing off the parasites. However, raw fish still carries E. coli, but it is generally so harmless that we can all enjoy a tasty sushi dinner!

 

So the next time some Tarzan dude offers you some raw boar’s leg, remember what you learned from this article and decide whether you really do want a date with your toilet. No judgment, but make sure you’re in full control of that. After all, you are what you eat.

No, seriously, don’t eat raw meat. Please.

 

Sources:

1). http://time.com/3731226/you-asked-why-cant-i-eat-raw-meat/

2). https://www.geek.com/g00/science/geek-answers-why-can-animals-eat-raw-meat-but-we-cant-1593883/?i10c.encReferrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8%3D&i10c.ua=1&i10c.dv=14

3). https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/03/20/why-cooked-meat-is-easier-for-humans-to-digest-than-raw-meat/#ef0963372153

 

Kenny Jung is a freshman at UC Merced where he will major in biological sciences with an emphasis on human biology. He has many recognitions such as QuestBridge College Prep Scholar 2017 and National College Match Finalist 2017, SCS Noonan Scholar, Fiat Lux Scholar, APIASF Scholar, and Caruso Scholar. In addition to writing for The Student Scientist, he takes part in a non-profit organization called Project Magnify which he helped become established in 2017. Kenny plans to attend medical school and become a pediatrician.

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