Why are some meats more susceptible to foodbourne illnesses than others?


I’ve been trying to figure out why you have to cook meat like chicken and seafood to a higher temperature and doneness than meats like beef, venison, and to a lesser extent pork.


It mainly has to do with how the meat is prepared and cooked versus anything physically with the meat or bacteria themselves. Take the example of ground beef vs. a steak. A steak is solid so the inside is basically sterile and nothing can get inside. So when you cook the outside you are effectively killing off any contaminants that may have come in contact during the processing. With ground beef however, everything gets mixed together so any contaminants from the surface could end up inside. Much riskier if you don’t cook it all the way through.

Your question relates more to how the meat is handled and/or processed. Meat that is industrially produced is much, much more likely to be cross-contaminated during processing (meaning that pathogens are transferred from other carcasses) because you have animals from multiple sources that are processed together in the same plant in different production runs. The health of such animals is also not very well known. In situations where you know the source/health of the animal and not much time has elapsed since slaughter/the slaughtering process is known to be “clean”, in theory the meats could be consumed rare/raw. Meats are consumed this way in many cultures.

With respect to most fish Americans source from supermarkets, it is mostly processed (gutted, filleted, etc.) frozen and then thawed, which greatly increases susceptibility to contamination during the production process. Most sushi or sashimi-quality fish is not handled/cut etc. until very close to serving, and it is much, much fresher (i.e. hours since being caught, as opposed to days).

Edit: There are also cases where meat can be contaminated by pathogens which live in the muscle tissue of the infected animal, as in the case of trichinosis in pork and some wild game. Salmonella is endemic to most American chickens (i.e. it lives inside of them), which is why it’s recommended to cook all poultry and eggs thoroughly. The salmonella can actually end up inside the egg because it’s already present in the chicken.

Edit2: The difference in cooking temperatures relates to what temperature is necessary to kill the pathogen). It’s also a function of time, so in some cases cooking to a lower temperature for a longer period of time does the trick (as in sous vide cooking). Generally the widely publicized temperatures you see are standardized to a 15-second period.