What Is the Viral Raw Meat Trend About?

raw meat

Verywell / Amelia Manley

Key Takeaways

  • Some TikTok influencers promote eating raw meat and seafood.
  • Raw meat and seafood are also included in some cultural diets.
  • Food safety experts warn that consuming raw meat and seafood poses the risk of developing a foodborne illness.

The online obsession with eating raw meat seems to continue despite clear warnings from food safety experts. TikTok influencers like Liver King and Pauly Long have been posting videos of themselves eating raw steak, salmon, liver, ground ribeye, and even bull testicles.

Eating raw meat isn’t just a recent TikTok trend. Steak tartare is on the menu of plenty of high-end restaurants, while basashi, or raw horse meat sashimi, is a regional delicacy in parts of Japan. Raw beef dishes called “tiger meat” or “cannibal sandwiches” are also popular during the holidays in the Midwest, even though the Wisconsin Department of Health recently warned against this tradition.

According to some users on the r/rawmeat subreddit, eating uncooked meat supposedly gives them more energy and better digestion. But many food safety experts say that consuming raw meat poses a serious health risk.

About 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Raw meat is often at risk of being contaminated with harmful bacteria, like salmonella, E. coli, and Clostridium perfringens, which can lead to severe food poisoning. 

Raw meat diet believers on Reddit often reference Aajonus Vonderplanitz, who created the “Primal Diet” that promotes eating like ancient humans did and claimed that the act of cooking meat releases toxins.

Meredith Carothers, MPH, a food safety expert at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said that people might not realize that they contracted a foodborne illness directly from raw meat because of the timing and type of symptoms they experience.

“The onset of symptoms may occur within minutes to weeks and often presents itself as flu-like symptoms, as the ill person may experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever,” Carothers told Verywell via an email. “Because the symptoms are often flu-like, many people may not recognize that the illness is caused by harmful bacteria or other pathogens in food.”

Certain Raw Diets Are Taking a Step Back in Time

Felicia Wu, PhD, a professor in food safety, toxicology, and risk assessment at Michigan State University, said the raw meat trend feels like “walking backward in time.”

“The ability for humans to cook meat is what some biological anthropologists say is the reason our brains developed to become much larger,” Wu said.

Paleo diets, also known as “caveman diets,” emphasize returning to a way of eating that is reminiscent of early humans. Liver King, who now faces a $25 million lawsuit after admitting to using steroids, claimed that he had built his muscular body by practicing “ancestral living.”

“It takes a lot of work to chew and digest raw meat compared with cooked meat,” Wu said. “To dispense calories that way in prehistoric times was a disadvantage to humans.”

According to the USDA, steaks should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees, while ground beef should be cooked to at least 160 degrees.

What About Raw Seafood?

While most food safety guidelines don’t recommend consuming raw meat, recommendations for raw seafood consumption aren’t as straightforward.

Keith Belk, PhD, chair of the center for meat safety and quality at Colorado State University, told Verywell that eating any type of raw seafood presents the risk of developing a serious foodborne illness.  

“You can go to the Texas Gulf Coast and raw oysters are a delicacy. They eat them in massive quantities, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a higher risk from a food safety perspective,” he said.

Belk explained that oysters act as filters for the ocean, similar to how the liver acts as a filter for the body in vertebrates. Eating these “filters” raw means people could be consuming contaminated organisms.

However, Wu said the food safety risk depends on the type of raw seafood.

“It would not necessarily be safe to buy any cut of raw salmon from a grocery store and eat that raw,” she said.

While not all raw seafood is safe, certain cuts that are intended for sushi or sashimi are frozen to ensure parasites are destroyed. “In the store, it should be labeled ‘sushi or sashimi-grade’ in order to be safe for raw consumption,” Wu said.

What This Means For You

Consuming raw meat and seafood presents a risk of foodborne illness. While some experts say consuming certain types of raw seafood might be safe, children, older adults, people who are pregnant, and people with weakened immune systems are generally advised to avoid eating raw seafood.

2 Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Foodborne germs and illnesses.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Foods that can cause food poisoning.