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Wisconsin warns against a holiday tradition: Raw meat sandwiches

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Like rules, some holiday traditions were made to be broken. So say health officials in Wisconsin, where it's long been customary in some families to serve at festive gatherings an appetizer of raw, lean ground beef on rye cocktail bread with sliced onions, salt and pepper.

As delicious as that may — or may not — sound, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services recently took to social media to issue its annual reminder that eating what some refer to as a "cannibal sandwich" is not the soundest of ideas. 

That's because "eating them poses a threat for salmonella, E. coli 0157:H7, campylobacter and listeria bacteria that can make you sick," the agency stated in its yearly plea. 

Based on the comments that followed, the warning was not well received. 

#FlashbackFriday Time for our annual reminder that there's one #holiday tradition you need to pass on: raw meat...

Posted by Wisconsin Department of Health Services on Friday, December 16, 2022

"A must have in our house for NYE, along with herring," offered one Milwaukee-area resident. 

"This is our Christmas tradition and it hasn't killed us yet or made us sick! Good eats!" offered another Wisconsinite, who added she only gets her ground meat from her brother, a butcher.

Health officials say it doesn't matter where one buys their beef, only that they cook it to an internal temperature of 160° F to kill any bacteria lurking inside.

The risks of eating raw beef, also known as "tiger meat," "steak tartare," or "raw beef and onions," are real, according to the Wisconsin DHS. "Since 1986, eight outbreaks have been reported in Wisconsin linked to eating a raw ground beef dish, including a large salmonella outbreak involving more than 150 people during December 1994," the agency states on its website.

An estimated 1,600 people are sickened by listeria bacteria each year, and roughly 260 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Campylobacteriosis is a bacterial infection that causes 1.5 million illnesses each year, the agency estimates, while salmonella causes about 1.35 million infections and 420 deaths in the U.S. each year, with food the primary source of the bacteria's spread.

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