29

Sometimes I see in supermarkets (in Italy) packages in which rocket salad is sold together with raw beef, like in this picture:

enter image description here

This is clearly meant to be prepared in the form of tagliata con rucola, an Italian dish made with beefsteak cut in stripes and rocket:

enter image description here

As you can see, the salad is normally served raw with tagliata. The supermarkets seem OK with that, but this practice triggers my food safety alert: is it safe to consume salad that has been in contact with raw meat? Should I worry about eating it?

EDIT: further information:

  • these packages are found in the refrigerator aisle.
  • the bottom label says (among other things) "store at 0--4 degrees Celsius [32-39 Fahrenheit] -- cook before eating". It is not clear from the wording if this warning applies to the salad as well.
  • the label in the top right says "20% discount -- the marked price already includes discount". It doesn't specify if it is discounted for quick sale or for other reasons. In any case, I have also seen regular packages without the discount tag, and with the current day marked as packaging date.
  • It is not customary here to put salad or other edible items as decoration -- I have never seen this done with other fresh food on sale.
  • upon request, full translation of the white sticker. The notes in brackets are mine.

Il gigante [supermarket name] - the fresh food specialists. Corso Marche [address of the supermarket]

Net Wt 0.354 kg price 4.43 EUR

tare 0.032 EUR/Kg 12.50

prepackaged on: 04 August 2014

Tagliata con rucola [name of the dish, see picture above]

Meat preparation NC16 [not 100% sure about the code, it's blurry. No idea what it means, I assume it's some bureaucratic category for the meat]

Ingredients: bovine meat, rucola, sunflower oil, salt

Store at 0-4 degrees [32-39F]. To be consumed after cooking. Cooking suggestions: in pan, 3 minutes each side. In oven 175 degrees [350F] for 30 minutes. Produced and prepackaged for immediate sale by "Il gigante", Turin.

  • Note that I did not take this picture myself; this one comes from the internet. I can take a similar one the next time I visit my local supermarket, but it's probably going to be 7-10 days from now.
  • 4
    I imagine it is only for the display, not for eating. – Max Jun 22 '16 at 18:18
  • I believe that the label in the upper right also says, essentially "discounted for quick sale"? Even if I trusted brand newly packaged beef with the greens, I wouldn't trust beef that's been sitting around in the shop for long enough to be put on discount. – Catija Jun 22 '16 at 22:32
  • 5
    Here's the question... would you eat this meat raw? If the answer is "yes"... then also eating the salad raw isn't going to be any different. If the answer is "no"... then think about why you wouldn't eat it raw and apply all of those reasons to the salad because they all apply. Personally, I don't eat raw meat because it's unsafe... particularly from the grocery store... I agree with Jefromi's answer and urge you not to eat the greens. – Catija Jun 22 '16 at 22:44
  • 1
    In the US, the ensuing illness from cross contamination would be a profitable lawsuit. – Crashworks Jun 23 '16 at 18:56
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    It seems that adding the rocket is a cheeky way to get around labeling requirements regarding the origin of the beef. Putting the salad in there makes this technically a "prepared" food and therefore exempt. – J... Jun 23 '16 at 20:33
31

What you're looking at is called (in the US) "cross contamination". You have a food generally considered "unsafe" (beef) that is coming into contact with a food generally considered "safe" (salad greens).

This contact makes the greens "unsafe" to consume raw.

Cross-contamination is the transfer of harmful bacteria to food from other foods, cutting boards, utensils, etc., if they are not handled properly. This is especially true when handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood, so keep these foods and their juices away from already cooked or ready-to-eat foods and fresh produce.

The rule in the US is to always keep these products away from each other so that the "safe" foods stay safe.

The only way to make the greens safe to eat is to cook them, thereby killing off the bacteria that may have been transferred to them in the juices of the meat.

  • 5
    I don't think the term "cross-contamination" is specific to the US or to US English. – David Richerby Jun 23 '16 at 8:47
  • 6
    If beef and seafood were “generally considered unsafe”, that would include sushi and carpaccio – which are raw fish/seafood and raw beef, respectively, and are widely sold and consumed. Some kinds of meat, including beef, are fine to consume raw – the key is that they have to be fresh and kept refrigerated throughout. Others are not – I definitely wouldn't recommend eating raw pork or chicken. – user149408 Jun 23 '16 at 14:52
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    @user149408 Those products are of specific quality and stored in a special way. The stuff you buy in the grocery store does not follow those guidelines and is not safe. And, regardless, as far as the food safety goes, even those products are considered unsafe, which is why they carry warnings on them in restaurant menus. – Catija Jun 23 '16 at 14:55
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    @user149408 - There are places in the world that consume raw pork and raw chicken as well. (In Japan, the home of the sushi you mention, it is quite possible to encounter chicken sashimi (toriwasa), for example.) Anyhow, as Catija said, all of these raw meats have special requirements for production to try to ensure safety. Raw beef used for carpaccio or steak tartare is handled with special hygenic practices and often the exteriors of the meat (where most bacteria are) are trimmed off before final prep/consumption. I highly doubt a supermarket packaged meat would meet such standards. – Athanasius Jun 23 '16 at 16:03
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    I work for the heath department here in Canada. If a restaurant were to be found cross contaminating something like raw meat and salad like this, there would most likely be fines or other actions taken against the establishment. – element11 Jun 24 '16 at 2:07
16

No, it's not safe to eat those greens without cooking, for exactly the same reason it's unsafe to eat the meat that's touching them without cooking it. If you have to cook the meat before eating to make it safe, you would have to cook anything it's touched to make it safe. Maybe it's not quite as risky as eating the meat, but it's still risky.

They could expect you to discard the greens (if they're just for looks), they could expect you to cook the greens, or they could just not care that much or be that aware about food safety. I don't think there's a good explanation; you can speculate for yourself about which of those is most likely given what you know about the store.

  • Thanks! I have added more information in an edit. I don't think it has been processed in any special way, and the label states that it is not to be eaten raw. – Federico Poloni Jun 22 '16 at 22:42
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    I would be surprised if supermarkets "don't care much" about food safety, the more likely explanation is that it is safe by Italian food safety. – rumtscho Jun 23 '16 at 8:07
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    @rumtscho That's kind of what I meant - I just don't really think that if your food safety standards require cooking meat but at the same time permit that kind of cross contamination, the standards themselves don't seem to care a whole lot. It's kind of like saying that it's dangerous to eat raw meat, but if all you want to do is lick it, that's fine. – Cascabel Jun 23 '16 at 13:47
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    In the UK the food standards are a little farcical in this respect. Beef that's fine to eat raw will still often have on the labelling a recommendation that it be cooked. Sometimes it will give a range of cooking times including "rare" and also tell you not to eat it rare. The standards permit it, they just don't encourage it. So it's possible that in Italy too there's a mismatch between the real opinions of the people who designed the product (and put the rocket in), and the lawyers who wrote the label including "cook before eating". – Steve Jessop Jun 23 '16 at 16:36
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    ... so I don't see any contradiction between labelling that says to cook the meat, and a product that caters to people who choose to ignore the label. Personally I doubt I'd eat the rocket though, I wouldn't count on random packaged beef to be fine to eat raw. – Steve Jessop Jun 23 '16 at 16:43
-2

There are equal concerns with fresh and now apparently even frozen vegies in the US. I have not seen food packaged this way although each food has an equal concern. I will address only the vegetables, but note that given current concerns, just tossing out the pretty greens that have touched the meat would not address the issue, if the meat is not going to be cooked well. There are concerns with the lettuce, sprouts, cilantro, etc. I have read that the more a food is handled in the chain of production, the more likely the contamination. That makes sense. I cannot bring myself to eat any type of uncooked sprout and I buy canned. No one wants a plate of boiled sprouts, lettuce and whatever else as a salad. Here is the US cite: http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm114299.htm

I do not believe there are clear answers, common sense has to be used, wash it if it is possible. I wash all such vegetables in very hot water and I use soap, rinse well, dry, and refrigerate. I wash foods I am going to peel (no, not garlic or ginger, not yet anyway). I discard outer leaves of a head of lettuce. Why take a chance when we can take some reasonable steps. At least when you get done washing, rinsing and crisping up: make that salad, you have done your best by all reasonable means.

-4

The other answers seem to focus on the cross-contamination issue, with the raw beef being unsafe. Let me point out that beef cuts are often served rare, as it is in your illustration of the dish, and that is considered fine. So I really don't think there is much of an issue here. (Raw ground meat, from a factory setting, and undercooked pork are far more unsafe than rare beef, of course.)

  • 11
    The outside of the meat is still thoroughly cooked even though the inside will be rare - that's because the outside, exposed layer is the part where bacteria is going to be present and therefore the risky part. – Kareen Jun 23 '16 at 5:22
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    This would be iffy advice no matter what (as Kareen points out) but it seems especially odd to say given that the OP's meat explicitly says it must be cooked, even despite the weird deliberate cross-contamination. – Cascabel Jun 23 '16 at 6:12
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    This answer is dangerously wrong, for the reason that @Kareen points out. The reason that raw ground meat is dangerous is precisely because it has a huge surface area to hold bacteria. The reason that rare beef is safe is that the flesh is dense enough that bacteria can't penetrate beyond the surface, and the surface is sterilized by cooking. – David Richerby Jun 23 '16 at 8:39
  • Raw ground meat is dangerous because the bacteria is transferred from the surface to the inside during the grinding part. – Shaymin Gratitude Jun 24 '16 at 17:57

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