Restaurants these days are packed with patrons hungry for dining out after a long period of Circuit Breaker. It’s not uncommon to find queues of patrons lining up outside sushi restaurants or steak houses, but when it comes to eating raw food, many people (rightfully) avoid them. However, which is safer – raw sushi and sashimi, or rare steak?
First, let’s break down what makes raw food dangerous.
Parasites, bacteria, worms, and more
All raw food will have all sorts of nasty microscopic critters like parasites, bacteria, worms, and more.
Raw animal meat has more dangerous viruses (hepatitis E), bacteria (salmonella and E.colli), worms, and flukes than raw fish, according to the CDC.
Raw fish can be contaminated by two types of bacteria, including salmonella and vibrio vulnificus (which is more prevalent in oysters).
Source to table
The way the food is prepared contributes to its contamination. We won’t be talking about pork or chicken, because (almost) nobody eats them raw.
Beef: Packaged ground meat is very likely to house illness-causing micro-organisms because a single package could contain meat from a dozen cows; one contaminated animal can corrupt other batches. So never eat raw hamburgers!
Whole cuts of beef are less risky because they come from a single animal. Since most of the harmful stuff is usually on the meat’s surface (not inside the muscle), searing just the outside will likely kill anything harmful.
However, take note of “mechanically tenderised meat,” which is punched with small needles or blades and can force outer contaminants into the meat (so searing it won’t kill them). Some beef at restaurants and supermarkets have undergone this process to make cheaper cuts like sirloin more tender. Meat from high quality restaurants and butchers are less likely to have this issue.
Fish: Raw fish aren’t ground or mixed with other fish, so it lowers the likelihood of contamination. While raw fish are generally safer, raw shellfish may present slightly more problem in the form of bacteria that cause gastrointestinal illness.
Sushi-grade fish must be frozen at -4ºF for seven days, or kept at -31ºF for 15 hours in order to kill the encysted worms and other parasites before being served. Illness-causing microbes aren’t usually a problem in raw seafoods – the contamination is most likely from seafood handlers, equipment (ie. dirty chopping board) or the environment (ie. polluted water).
Taking all these factors into account, raw seafood (especially fish) seems safer to eat than raw meat – although high-grade rare beef is probably just as safe as raw seafood.
Bear it mind that it all depends on the quality of the items, how they’re stored before you eat them, and… your luck. Either way, you’re taking a risk whenever raw food is concerned. Bon appétit!