"Cannibal sandwiches," an appetizer featuring raw, lean ground beef served on cocktail bread, may be a Wisconsin tradition, but they are not safe, health officials said, noting that more than a dozen people became ill after consuming them last holiday season. Health officials confirmed four cases tied to E. coli bacteria and 13 likely cases in people who ate the sandwiches at several gatherings late last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a report issued this week. The meat came from a Watertown market that later recalled more than 2,500 pounds of meat.
Cannibal sandwiches were tied to outbreaks in Wisconsin in 1972, 1978, and 1994. The appetizer, also called "tiger meat," "steak tartare," or simply "ground beef," is usually a simple dish of lean ground meat seasoned with salt and pepper on rye cocktail bread with sliced raw onion, says Milwaukee historian John Gurda, who served it at his 1977 wedding reception. Occasionally, a raw egg will be mixed with the meat. Says the owner of a butcher shop in Kenosha: "It's like eating a cold hamburger that's a little on the raw side."