Patients are eating raw meat. Could they possibly be onto something?

By Julia Ries | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published January 19, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • TikTok users suggest that eating raw meat provides health benefits.

  • The contamination of meat during the production process due to unsanitary conditions in factory farms makes eating raw meat especially dangerous.

  • Cooking meat not only lowers the risk of contamination but also aids in the digestion and absorption of nutrients.

It’s well-known that various meats should be cooked to specific temperatures to offset the risks of contracting a foodborne illness, such as salmonella or E. coli, but that doesn’t seem to be deterring people from experimenting with “the primal diet,” a diet that involves eating raw meat. 

The trend has exploded on TikTok, racking up millions of views. Some users, such as Liver King and Pauly Long, regularly post videos of themselves eating uncooked animal hearts, livers, kidneys, and spleens. Other TikTok users claim that they have an easier time digesting raw meat and are able to better absorb specific nutrients, like vitamin B.[] 

If your intuition is telling you that this is a risky thing to do, well, your gut is onto something. While some forms of raw meat, like steak tartare and ceviche, can be tasty, there are no known health benefits of eating raw meat. As Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, a senior clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center, assistant professor at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, and author of “Recipe For Survival, puts it, “There are a myriad of health risks to eating raw meat.” 

The dangers of eating raw meat

The main threat of eating raw meat is contracting a foodborne illness, such as Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, and Listeria, says Nima Majlesi, DO, Director of Medical Toxicology at Staten Island University Hospital.

According to Dr. Hunnes, many factory farms that produce meat for consumers don’t prioritize the welfare of their animals, and many animals, including cows and pigs, are closely exposed to their feces, as well as feces from other animals. As a result, meat is contaminated with various types of bacteria and viruses that can cause foodborne illness in humans. “Salmonella, trichinosis, and E. coli are just a few superbugs that these animals have in their gastrointestinal tract that can contaminate their meat,” says Dr. Hunnes.[][]

While certain cases of foodborne illnesses may be mild and involve symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting, some cases can become serious and lead to hospitalization or death. Some people may develop bloody and persistent diarrhea, dehydration, and a high fever. In certain cases, the infection may not respond to antibiotics, increasing the risk of developing severe symptoms or complications, like meningitis, kidney damage, or brain and nerve damage, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).[]

Eating raw meat is particularly risky for children younger than 5, adults older than 70 with certain underlying conditions, pregnant people, and individuals who are immunocompromised.[]

There are no known health benefits of eating raw meat

Some TikTok users claim that you can better absorb certain nutrients, like vitamin B, by eating raw meat, but Dr. Hunnes says that raw meat provides no health benefits. In fact, you can get the same nutrients from plant-based products. Over-consumption of protein is also risky. Too much protein, which comes from meat, can be dangerous for our kidneys and our bones, says Dr. Hunnes. 

The safest and most effective way to eat meat is to cook it thoroughly. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends cooking ground meats to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and steaks, chops, and roasts to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. This lowers the risk of contracting foodborne illness and makes it easier for the body to digest and absorb nutrients, says Dr. Hunnes. Plus, evidence suggests that cooking meat makes it easier to chew.[][][]

Raw dishes like ceviche and tartare are only as good as the meat used in them, says Dr. Majlesi. “Raw food requires high quality and reliability,” he adds. Even then, eating raw meat comes with some level of risk. For example, with ceviche, a dish that consists of raw fish, the short-term exposure to acid has an antimicrobial effect that can kill or slow the growth of pathogens, according to Dr. Majlesi. “But it’s not nearly as effective as heat is,” he says, “especially when it comes to killing parasites.” 

Unless you strictly follow raw meat safe eating guidelines, it’s best to cook your meat. “I do not recommend eating raw meat unless you know exactly where that animal came from, where it lived, what its conditions were while living, and what its conditions were in the death and butchering processes,” says Dr. Hunnes.

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