We've already had a question about raw meat and teeth question and recently about steak tartare, but I've been wondering about the safety versus benefits of raw meat in general, since there are some paleo champions of raw meat, but on the other hand fire seems to have been an integral part of our evolution.
Is conventional meat safe raw or should one only be daring with well-sourced organic, grassfed animals? What meats is it safe to have undercooked? Presumably beef is pretty safe, every-one seems opposed to undercooked chicken, but I've heard mixed reports about pork? Even if undercooked muscle meat is safe, would organs still be off limits? I recall reading advice that liver should be cooked all the way through, because infection can penetrate all the way through, rather than just affecting the outside of a slab of meat. What benefits could we expect from raw meat? I recall reading that creatine and possibly taurine are quickly broken down through cooking (don't know how much truth there is in this), presumably other nutrients would be as well. On the other hand how much of a negative would it be (if any) that raw meat is less easily digestible?
My suspicion is that there's no clear-cut 'paleo' case here, just a question about what's optimal (and it's probably something in the middle). Doubtless we were eating raw meat early on in our evolution, clearly we did find cooking meat to be advantageous, but I doubt early, hungry users of fire systematically cooked all their meat all the way through.
From what I've heard from a biologist friend of mine, raw meat is usually fine unless it's spoilt and bacteria have been given the chance to pump all sorts of toxins into it, in which case even cooking it won't help you.
Also, bacteria tend to gather on the outside of pieces of meat, not the insides. So I guess if you wash your meat and maybe cut off the outside bits, you should be ok.
(As a corollary to this, it's probably wise to be suspicious of pre-ground beef and pork)
There's some risk with parasites in pork, but it's rare. As in really, vanishingly rare. On the other hand, raw-ish pork just isn't very tasty, so it's probably a good bet to just cook it through and through. YMMV.
Chicken of poor quality may have (possibly contaminated) water injected into it to add to its weight, so that's a good reason not to eat it raw (the solution: eat organic or other higher quality chicken, if eating chicken is something you must do. Chicken that's soft enough to eat raw is also supremely tasteless and chicken that does in fact have taste is so old it should be softened by extensive cooking before you can digest it).
Organ meats: cooking liver or kidney through and through is criminal. It's a surefire way to turn what should be a soft, tasty cut of meat into something truly mealy and dry. Besides, any problems these organ meats can cause (because of the toxins that can be stored in them) aren't solved by cooking anyway. So just sear them, quickly, and enjoy them, and if you're concerned about what toxins industrial farming may have put in them, go for grass fed and organic.
Finally: note you don't have to cook meat through and through for it to be tasty. There are optimal temperatures where meat is easily digestible yet still succulent and juicy. Those temperatures range between 53 degrees centigrade and 60 degrees centigrade and if you have an oven, you can easily attain those temperatures throughout the entire cut with very little effort or skill (you can sear your meat in a pan afterwards if you like the taste of that). Those are temperatures most bacteria that could cause trouble don't particularly like to be exposed to.
There are the raw meat enthusiasts out there. Check out the raw paleo forum at http://www.rawpaleoforum.com/
Lex Rooker has been posting a journal on that forum since 2008 regarding his experiment in eating raw meat from Slankers in Texas.
for the latest posting.
Click on page 1 for the start of his journal.
He has been somewhere about 65 to 75 percent fat to protein. He eats once a day about 2 pounds of raw ground meat. He has a way of determining exactly the percentage of fat to protein he mixes together.
Another resourse are the followers of Aajonus Vonderplanitz. Here is an interview: http://www.drbass.com/aajonus.html
I know these raw meat people eat the organs, brains, muscle meat and fat raw. And some even age their beef at room temperature to make "high" meat...it grows bacteria which is susposed to emulate how paleo man ate and survived.
I have never heard of any dire consequences of these eating practices, but I am not going to stop eating my meat cooked rare. The mainstream conventional wisdom is that not raising the meat to a temperature to kill the bacteria will cause one to potentially die. I have given raw meat a try, but I do like to eat hot meat dripping with saturated fat.
Well I know one thing for sure- I am coming into the paleo picture AFTER we found fire! I like my meat rare to medium rare but not raw.
To me the flavour of meat is accentuated when it is cooked. And I agree with Dexter that it must be safer if surface bacteria are toasted.
Make that Safety first, History second.