Cannibal Sandwiches, a Wisconsin Christmas Delicacy, Aren't Safe, Warns State Department of Health
While it often feels like America has one monolithic food culture, plenty of local, under-the-radar traditions still exist. Though frequently unorthodox, these regional favorites are almost always edible at the very least. However, one holiday favorite from Wisconsin would beg to differ.
Recently, a tweeted notice from Wisconsin's department of health services made the rounds, advising the Badger State's residents that it is not advisable to eat raw ground beef. This is apparently "a #holiday tradition" sometimes called the "cannibal sandwich" or the "tiger meat sandwich."
So what is a cannibal sandwich? While its name implies a potential connection to infamous Wisconsinites like Jeffrey Dahmer or Ed Gein, there's (thankfully) no human flesh involved. Instead, the cannibal sandwich usually consists of raw ground beef, spices and onions served on bread or a cracker, if the USDA's understanding is correct.
The popularity of the cannibal sandwich isn't unique to one rural Wisconsin town, either. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, one Milwaukee butcher shop supposedly sells 1,000 pounds of raw beef for the sandwiches on Christmas eve alone, with another 600 to 700 pounds going out the door on New Year's Eve.
As you might imagine, ground beef tartare is like playing a game of salmonella roulette. While steak tartare is passable (albeit still a little risky) when handled properly by a restaurant with careful preparation and access to quality beef, simply grabbing ground beef from a store and hoping for the best presents a bit more risk. There have been eight separate salmonella outbreaks tied to cannibal sandwiches (or some variation thereof) in the state of Wisconsin since 1986, including one 1994 outbreak that made 150 people sick.
Related: How to Cook and Brown Ground Beef
As the USDA sees it, there's really only one safe alternative: Cook your dang beef. To kill the bacteria, ground beef should be cooked to a temperature of 160ºF before serving. I'm sure some Wisconsinites would spit their cheese curds out in disgust at the very thought of cooking the beef in their cannibal sandwiches, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices in order to avoid contracting a potential foodborne illness.
Does it suck that you might have to give up raw beef sandwiches for the holidays? Maybe. But there are a lot of other people whose holiday celebrations will be augmented this year. And trust me: You do not want to risk having a little beef potentially send you to the hospital at a time like this. After all, there's no rule saying a cannibal can't cook their meat.