"Cannibal sandwiches," an appetizer featuring raw, lean
ground beef served on cocktail bread, may be a Wisconsin
tradition, but they are not safe, health officials said, noting
that more than a dozen people became ill after consuming them last
confirmed four cases tied to E. coli bacteria and 13 likely cases
in people who ate the sandwiches at several gatherings late last
year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a report
issued this week. The meat came from a Watertown market that later
recalled more than 2,500 pounds of meat.
sandwiches were tied to outbreaks in Wisconsin in 1972, 1978 and
1994. The appetizer, also called "tiger meat," ''steak
tartare" or simply "ground beef," is usually a
simple dish of lean ground meat seasoned with salt and pepper on
rye cocktail bread with sliced raw onion, said Milwaukee historian
John Gurda, who served it at his 1977 wedding reception.
Occasionally, a raw egg will be mixed with the meat.
sandwiches have been a festive dish in German, Polish and other
ethnic communities in the Milwaukee area since the 19th century,
Gurda said. The 66-year-old said it was once common to see them at
wedding receptions, meals following funerals and Christmas and New
Year's Eve parties. The dish has become less common in recent
years with greater awareness of the risks of uncooked meat and
fewer people eating beef, but Gurda said he still runs into it.
"It's like a
coarse pate and when you put the onions on, there's a crunch as
well and that kind of cuts the softness," he said.
Keith Meyer, who
runs L&M Meats, a Kenosha butcher shop started by his father,
recalled his German grandfather and other "old guys"
gobbling the ground beef when he was growing up. With his
grandfather gone, Meyer's family no longer serves the dish, but
the 57-year-old said, "It's really not that bad, if you get
by the texture of it."
eating a cold hamburger that's a little on the raw side,"
His butcher shop
sells 50 to 100 pounds of freshly ground round on Christmas Eve,
New Year's Eve and perhaps a day before those holidays to people
wishing to make cannibal sandwiches. Glenn's Market and Catering,
the Watertown butcher involved in the recall, does a similar
holiday business, vice president Jeff Roberts said.
Both stores label
their ground beef with warnings about consuming raw or undercooked
meat, but the men said it's unlikely people are buying it to cook.
With the fat trimmed off before grinding, the meat is too lean to
make a decent hamburger, Meyer said.
director of the Watertown health department, said its
investigation found no health or other violations at Glenn's
Market. It's hard to say what happened to the meat once it left
the store, she said.
message is that people need to cook their food properly and make
sure they're taking temperatures of their meat," Quest said.
should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees as
measured with a food thermometer.
The state health
and agriculture departments issued a warning Thursday telling
residents to avoid cannibal sandwiches, and Quest said her
department plans one as well. Its investigation into the E. coli
outbreak, which included interviews with more than 50 people who
ordered meat from Glenn's, found some weren't aware of the dangers
but others felt safe because they'd eaten the dish before with no
ill effects, she said.
Symptoms of an E.
coli infection include stomach cramps and diarrhea. It can lead to
kidney failure, particularly in the elderly, children and people
with weak immune systems.
Roberts said some
of his employees eat tiger meat, but he doesn't.
into raw meat," he said. "I cook all mine."