What Happens if You Eat Undercooked Steak?

Steak is a dish you can order in a variety of ways. Some people like their steak well done, and others like it to be so rare that it looks like it’s still moving.

Experts agree that the risk of foodborne illness reduces greatly when meats are cooked to the proper temperature, so what happens if you eat undercooked steak? 

It’s safe to eat steak that’s cooked to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit, which means that even medium-rare steak shouldn’t make you sick if it’s been handled properly. Eating undercooked meat increases your risk of foodborne illnesses. Still, the risks are fairly low with steak versus other meats. 

How To Tell If A Steak Is Undercooked

Since steaks come in a variety of temperatures, it’s sometimes difficult to tell where the line is between “cooked” and “undercooked.”

Cooked Steak

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), fresh beef steaks should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

At this temperature, most of the harmful bacteria is killed. 

So, anything under this temperature is technically “undercooked,” however, many people like to eat steak cooked rare and to a temperature of 125 – 125 degrees.

You should do so at your own risk and knowing that the risk of foodborne illness is higher. 

Undercooked steaks are typically cold in the center and it will be very red inside. It may seem like it’s nearly raw.

Will Eating an Undercooked Steak Make You Sick?

Whole muscle cuts of beef, like steaks, carry a relatively low risk of foodborne illness if they were handled properly.

As long as you purchased the steak from a trusted food retailer and did not cross-contaminate the meat with any other items (like poultry), it’s unlikely that you would contract foodborne illness even if you don’t cook it all the way. 

Sliced Steak

Plus, most of the pathogens and bacteria you may encounter will be killed by cooking the steak to at least 135 degrees.  

However, that doesn’t mean that undercooked steak carries zero risk. There’s a reason that the USDA recommends that you cook it to at least 145 degrees, after all.

Eating undercooked meat always comes with the possibility of bacteria or pathogens to enter the body.   

In addition, there are some people that should never eat undercooked meat because the risk of illness is much greater.

For example, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, those who are older than 65, babies and small children, or people with certain illnesses or diseases should never eat undercooked steak. 

The main risks associated with eating undercooked steak include exposure to one of these infections or conditions: 

Salmonellosis

This is the bacterial infection caused by – you guessed it – Salmonella. Salmonella are bacteria that make people sick when they eat or drink contaminated products or come into contact with infected animals. 

People with Salmonellosis typically show symptoms within six hours to six days and they usually have symptoms for four to seven days.

Common symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. 

Most people recover from Salmonella infection without medical attention or antibiotics.

Still, some groups (like those with weakened immune systems or small children) may become more seriously ill than others. 

Listeriosis 

Listeriosis is an infection caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. Listeria is found in the intestines of various animals, and it may also be present in soil, water, or plants.

Unlike many other bacteria, Listeria can grow even under refrigeration, which makes cooking meats to the proper temperature important for preventing infection.  

Symptoms of listeriosis include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fever, and chills.

Some people may experience stiffness in their neck. Symptoms may appear within two days to three weeks after eating the contaminated foods.

E. Coli 

  1. coli is a common type of bacteria that lives in cattle intestines and may also be found in some fruits, vegetables, and unpasteurized products. In lots of cases, E. coli is mostly harmless, but there are some strains that can cause serious illness in humans. 

These bacteria are usually present on the surface of whole muscle cuts of beef (like steaks or roasts), but it’s killed easily during the cooking process. 

The problem with E. coli is when whole cuts of meat are ground or mechanically tenderized, which contaminates the inside of the meat with the E. coli bacteria.

That’s why ground beef (burgers) must be cooked to a higher internal temperature than steaks. 

  1. coli can cause serious foodborne illness leading to severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. There are some strains that can lead to kidney failure or even death. 

Parasitic Infections 

While less common than some of the other potential risks associated with undercooked beef, parasitic infections are also a concern to be aware of.

For example, taeniasis is a parasitic infection caused by different tapeworm species. In many cases, people with a tapeworm infection are unaware of their condition because they may not show any noticeable symptoms. 

Trichinellosis or Trichinosis is another infection caused by eating undercooked meat from infected animals.

This condition is fairly rare in the U.S., but it can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and fatigue. 

Can Pregnant Women Eat Rare Steak?

Most pregnant women can tell you they’ve experienced a craving or two.

If steak is what you’re dreaming of, you’re in luck – pregnant women can safely eat steak as long as it’s cooked properly to a temperature of at least medium-well (160 degrees). 

Pregnant women should not eat undercooked or rare steak. The reason is because listeria can be very dangerous for moms-to-be.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, pregnant women can be twenty times more likely to become infected with listeria than non-pregnant, healthy adults. 

And if you get a listeria infection, you could potentially pass it to your unborn baby. Listeriosis increases the risk of other complications, too.

Miscarriage and premature delivery risks increase as do the risks for infection or even death for the unborn or newborn baby.

Any foodborne illness can cause more trouble for pregnant women than other adults, so it’s best to be extra cautious when it comes to proper cooking temperatures. 

  1. coli and salmonella are also concerns during pregnancy. For example, there have been reports of E. coli causing low birth weight in newborns, increased risk for preterm birth, and increased risk for other pregnancy related complications. 

How to Cook Steak That’s Safe to Eat

According to the USDA, you should not eat any meat that’s raw or undercooked because it could contain harmful bacteria that may cause illness.

Cooking meat products thoroughly is the best way to kill bacteria, parasites, and viruses that may be present. 

Beef, pork, lamb, and veal steaks, chops, and roasts must be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees fahrenheit before it’s removed from the heat source. For the best quality and safest meat, let it rest for another three minutes before cutting into the meat or eating it. 

You can always cook steak to a higher temperature if you prefer, but 145 degrees is the minimum temperature to ensure that the food is safe to eat.

Remember, that number only applies to whole cuts of meat like a steak or roast. 

Ground beef must be cooked to a higher temperature to kill any bacteria or organisms that may have been moved from the surface to the meat’s inside during the grinding process.

Burgers should be cooked to at least 160 degrees fahrenheit. 

The Bottom Line 

In most cases, you can eat a rare or undercooked steak and be just fine.

The chances of contracting foodborne illnesses are low as long as the meat was handled properly and sourced from a reputable retailer or restaurant. 

However, that doesn’t mean that the risk is absolute zero.

Anyone who consumes undercooked meat products is taking the chance that they may be exposed to bacteria, viruses, or parasites that may be present.

Eating undercooked steak that’s contaminated with these microbes can cause foodborne illness due to exposure to E. coli, salmonella, or other organisms. 

The only way to be 100% certain your steak is safe is to cook it to at least 145 degrees fahrenheit and then let it rest for at least three minutes.

Any bacteria that may be present is killed at that temperature. 

Women who are pregnant, along with other special populations like those with compromised immune systems or people over the age of 65, must be especially careful when eating undercooked meat.

The risk of serious illness is much greater, so it’s best to be safe and cook your steak to at least medium-well in those cases.

While many people believe they can check a steak’s “doneness” based on its color, texture, or firmness, the only way to know for sure is to check the internal temperature.

That’s why you should always use a properly calibrated meat thermometer when cooking steak or any other meats.

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