“If cannibal sandwiches are a tradition in your home, try this safe alternative: Cook the ground beef with the same spices and toppings, until it reaches 160F, and serve it on top of bread or crackers,” it said. “You may be surprised to find that it tastes better when cooked! Not to mention, you won’t be risking a trip to the hospital with every mouthful.”
There have been eight outbreaks in that state linked to the consumption of raw ground beef since 1986, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
It’s not clear how many Wisconsinites observe a holiday tradition of eating raw meat, but Dr. Murano said that the warnings applied well beyond the state. The steak tartare found in high-end restaurants around the world is similarly unsafe, she said, as is Italy’s carpaccio (thinly sliced raw beef), Amsterdam’s ossenworst (raw beef, traditionally smoked) and Germany’s zwiebelmett (minced raw pork with onion).
“Identity is a big deal in Wisconsin, and food is such a great way to express it, and a great way to retain it,” Ms. Altschwager, of the historical society, said. “Retaining Germanness in Wisconsin has been a big part of our story, a big part of our politics.”
Cannibal sandwiches, she said, reflect the broader phenomenon of immigration: people bringing elements of their cultural identity to the United States, and sometimes changing them — or clinging to them — in ways that contrast to the country of origin. Ms. Altschwager likened cannibal sandwiches to lutefisk, dried cod that is reconstituted with lye, a tradition among some Scandinavian-Americans.
“Hardly anyone in Norway would touch that stuff,” she said. “It’s not part of their contemporary cultural identity but it’s super important to Norwegians in the Northwest because it was an iconic food at the time of their displacement, so they clung onto it. Cannibal sandwiches are an expression of that same kind of thing. And holidays are when you see it the most.”
But health experts said it was better for people to let go of unsafe traditions than to risk a calamitous sandwich. (Wisconsin’s health agency also warned residents not to eat raw dough, or cookie or cake batter.)