Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

Are Raw Foods Safe to Eat?

Fri 10 May 2024 | 08:41 AM
Dr. Magdy Badran
Dr. Magdy Badran
Dr Magdy Badran

Uncooked meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood can lead to foodborne illness. You may even cross-contaminate fruits and vegetables if you prepare them on a cutting board that was used for raw animal products. Foods from animal sources are the most likely to carry bacteria that can make you sick. These include meat, poultry, seafood and shellfish, unpasteurized milk, or dairy products.

Consuming foodborne bacteria can be life-threatening for infants and young children, pregnant women, the elderly, individuals with a weakened immune system, such as those with cancer or HIV, and people with a chronic medical condition, like diabetes.

Food Structure

Raw food is often protected from attack by microorganisms by means of structures that are not easily degradable (fruit skin, nut shells, bran, collagen muscle tissue, eggshells, etc.). Only microbial species with appropriate enzymes (cellulase, pectinase, protease, etc.) can attack these structures. As a result, raw food prior to harvest is often only contaminated on the surface. However, as soon as the processing stage begins, this protection ceases, and the food becomes more vulnerable to the spread of microorganisms.

In general, fluid foods spoil rapidly because the organisms can easily spread throughout the food by means of their own motility or by convection currents. Semi-solid foods such as meat stews, soup, and tinned fruits can spoil as rapidly as fluid foods. Solid foods tend to spoil from their outside surfaces inwards, these being the first surfaces to become contaminated.

How Microbes Contaminate Meat

The growth of microbes in meat is governed by a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Intrinsic properties of meat, such as pH and moisture can promote microbial growth, whereas temperature is an extrinsic factor.

Fresh meat has a high-water content that is favorable for the growth of microorganisms. It also generally contains bacteria, including those that can cause diseases. The animals naturally carry bacterial species like Salmonella and E. coli in their intestines, and raw meat can become contaminated during the slaughter process.

Equipment and tools used in the processing of meat can also become contaminated with microbes and spread to the raw meat.

Bacteria multiply rapidly at temperatures. Pathogenic bacteria do not necessarily multiply in meat leading to illness. Some species such as Staphylococcus aureus tend to be outcompeted by other harmless flora or spoilage bacteria that lead to a bad odor that causes most consumers to discard the meat.


Raw egg whites may hinder biotin absorption. Biotin is a water-soluble B vitamin, also known as vitamin B7. This vitamin is involved in your body’s production of glucose and fatty acids. It’s also important during pregnancy. While egg yolks provide a good dietary source of biotin, raw egg whites contain a protein called avidin. Avidin binds to biotin in the small intestine, preventing its absorption.

Raw eggs can be contaminated with bacteria. Raw and undercooked eggs may contain Salmonella, a type of harmful bacteria. Salmonella contamination can happen either directly during the formation of an egg inside the hen, or indirectly when Salmonella contaminates the outside of the egg and penetrates through the shell membrane. Indirect contamination can happen during the production process, during handling, or during food preparation.

Raw Milk

The term “raw milk” refers to milk that does not undergo pasteurization. That's the process of heating milk to the high temperatures needed to kill bacteria and other microbes.

The potential dangers of raw milk arise from bacteria including salmonella, E. coli, listeria and brucella. They can make anyone ill, but are particularly dangerous to young children, older adults, and individuals with weakened immune systems. Diseases known to be caused by contaminated raw milk include tuberculosis, diphtheria, listeriosis, Guillain-Barre syndrome and typhoid fever.

Microbes may come directly from the animal, or they can contaminate milk in the series of steps that take place as it makes its way to the consumer. This includes during milking, packaging, and storage.

Milk of any kind is an excellent medium for bacterial growth and requires vigilant hygiene to keep it safe. Improper handling of milk leads to nearly triple the hospitalizations of any other type of foodborne illness.


Cross-contamination occurs when juices from uncooked foods come in contact with safely cooked foods, or with other raw foods that don’t need to be cooked, like fruits and vegetables. The juices from some raw foods, like meats and seafood, can contain harmful bacteria that could make you and your family sick.

The main concern with eating raw (uncooked or unpasteurized) foods is food poisoning. Pasteurization is a process that uses heat to destroy bacteria in foods. Without this, bacteria such as salmonella, listeria and E. coli can spread and cause infection.

Raw Flour

Raw Flour is a potential hazard in restaurants and bakeries. Flour is a raw agricultural commodity. Wheat is grown outside in a field where birds and other animals fly over and wander through the field which can introduce contaminants. The wheat is then harvested, taken to a mill, and ground into powder. There is no treatment step to kill biological contaminants, like E.coli, in the factory. Those bacteria which cause food-borne illness are killed by cooking, baking, or frying food. Symptoms of E.coli infection can include stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting. Severe infections lead to kidney damage.

Flour has been implicated in many food-borne illness outbreaks. For this reason, many manufacturers of flour and products containing raw flour, like cake and brownie mixes.

Cross contamination occurs when contaminants are accidentally transferred from one surface to another. Examples of cross contamination include placing raw cookie dough onto a baking sheet and not washing the hands before handling baked cookies or using a measuring cup to measure flour, then using the same cup to measure sugar, thereby contaminating the rest of the sugar in the container which is a ready-to-eat food.

Prevention Tips

Cooking makes some foods safer. The cooking process kills some toxins, bacteria, and harmful compounds in food. People should treat raw animal products and some produce with caution.

Food poisoning due to microbial contamination of meat can be prevented by cooking the meat thoroughly before consumption and observing good hygiene practices when cooking and handling meat.

When shopping, separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your shopping cart and on the way home. The shrink-wrapped containers may leak, so place them in plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping onto other foods.

In the refrigerator, place raw meat, poultry and seafood in containers, on plates or in sealed plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping onto other foods. Store eggs in their original carton and refrigerate as soon as possible.

When preparing food, use hot, soapy water and clean paper towels or clean clothes to wipe up kitchen spills, and wash cloths often using the hot cycle of your washing machine.

If possible, use one cutting board for meat, poultry and seafood and another one for fruits and vegetables. Otherwise, wash cutting boards, dishes and counter tops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item. Always use a clean cutting board and replace cutting boards that have become excessively worn.

Marinate food in the refrigerator, following the above storage guidelines. Reserve a clean portion of marinade for using on cooked meat, poultry, and seafood. To reuse marinade that holds raw food, bring it to a boil before using it on cooked food.

When serving food, never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food unless the plate has been washed first in hot, soapy water. Likewise, never serve cooked food with the same utensils that handle raw food, unless they have been washed first in hot, soapy water. This means taking two sets of plates and utensils out to the barbecue grill—one set for handling the raw food, and the other for removing cooked food from the heat.

Buy pasteurized eggs and egg products, which are available in some supermarkets. Only buy eggs kept in the refrigerated food section of the grocery store. Keep eggs refrigerated in your home. Storing them at room temperature may induce rapid growth of harmful bacteria. Don’t buy or consume eggs past their expiration date. Get rid of cracked or dirty eggs. Wash hands and anything else that may have come into contact with raw eggs. While all of these steps help, one of the best ways to eliminate the risk of contracting Salmonella is to cook eggs thoroughly.

Always wash fruits and vegetables. These foods can contain traces of bacteria from the chain of food handlers, so never eat produce that you haven’t properly cleaned.

Always handle raw flour as though it is contaminated, similar to how you would handle raw meat.