Have you ever professed your love for a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak, only to be met with a skeptical friend or family member who warns you about the potential risks of eating undercooked meat?
If so, you’re not alone. Many people find themselves grappling with the question of whether medium-rare steak is safe to eat. And it’s only natural to wonder if you should be playing it safe by opting for a higher degree of doneness when preparing steak at home or ordering it at a restaurant.
What Is Medium-Rare Steak, Exactly?
Let’s start by defining what “medium-rare” actually means.
While there’s no universally accepted definition of steak doneness, when most people refer to a medium-rare steak, they’re usually talking about a steak that’s cooked to an internal temperature of around 135°F (57°C).
How Safe to Eat Is Medium-Rare Steak?
Now, onto the question of food safety.
Although medium-rare steak may be more tender and flavorful, it does come with an increased risk of food poisoning, particularly for those who are at risk.
Medium-rare steak, or steak cooked to an internal temperature of 135°F (57°C), falls well below the minimum internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) recommended by food safety experts for the safe consumption of beef.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend cooking steak to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) with a resting time of 2 minutes.1USDA. Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/safe-temperature-chart2(2023, March 24). Four Steps to Food Safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/keep-food-safe.html The exposure to this temperature for this long is said to eliminate the disease-causing bacteria in the meat, or at least reduce their numbers down to a safe level.
Related: Internal Temperature for Beef, Poultry, Fish, Lamb, and Venison
Can Medium-Rare Steak Make You Sick?
Bacteria are everywhere, from the air we breathe and the soil beneath our feet to the food we eat and even in our own bodies. While some bacteria are beneficial or benign, others can be dangerous and cause potentially life-threatening illness if ingested in large enough quantities.
The types of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness are called pathogens. In the case of beef, many of these pathogens can be found on the cow’s skin, in its intestines, or on the machinery in the slaughterhouse. They contaminate the meat during the slaughtering process, and they need to be eliminated through cooking.
While many swear by the taste and texture of a medium-rare steak, it’s important to note that this cooking method technically doesn’t reach the minimum internal temperature recommended for safe consumption of beef.
So yes, there is a higher risk of food poisoning associated with eating a steak cooked to medium-rare or lower degree of doneness.
Who Is at Risk (And Should Pay Caution)?
First, let’s address the elephant in the room: many of us enjoy a medium-rare steak, myself included, and have yet to experience any adverse health effects as a result.
However, it’s important to note that the risk of food poisoning associated with consuming undercooked meat, including steak, is real — and for some, it should not be taken lightly.
Foodborne illnesses caused by pathogenic bacteria can affect anyone, but certain groups are at a higher risk of developing serious health complications as a result. According to the CDC, these vulnerable groups include adults aged 65 and older, young children under 5 years of age, individuals who are sick or recovering from an illness, and pregnant women and their unborn babies.3(2022, August 10). People With a Higher Risk of Food Poisoning. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/people-at-risk-food-poisoning.html
If you or someone you’re cooking steak for falls into one of these at-risk groups, err on the side of caution and don’t serve them medium-rare steak. Instead, cook the steak to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) and let it rest for 2 minutes before serving. This will ensure that any harmful pathogens have been eliminated or reduced to safe levels, effectively reducing the risk of food poisoning.
Medium-rare steak isn’t necessarily safe to eat because it hasn’t been cooked to the minimum internal temperature for safe consumption of beef. Some cuts may carry a higher risk of contamination than others, and certain groups of people may want to avoid consuming medium-rare steak altogether.
While the risk of food poisoning isn’t as high as with undercooked pork or poultry, if you or somebody you cook for is in the at-risk groups of foodborne illness, you probably want to cook the steak to a higher degree of doneness.
- 1USDA. Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/safe-temperature-chart
- 2(2023, March 24). Four Steps to Food Safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/keep-food-safe.html
- 3(2022, August 10). People With a Higher Risk of Food Poisoning. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/people-at-risk-food-poisoning.html