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'Cannibal sandwiches' sicken residents in Midwest

By Eric M. Johnson

(Reuters) - Residents in the upper Midwest should ditch their seasonal tradition of eating "cannibal sandwiches" made of raw ground beef, health officials warned, citing multiple outbreaks of foodborne illnesses since the 1970s and cases last year.

Gobbling up raw ground beef spread on sandwich bread or crackers with onions and other seasoning led to more than 50 cases of foodborne illness in 1972, 1978 and 1994 in Wisconsin, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote in a report released this week.

Raw beef "cannibal sandwiches" have also been linked to at least four cases, and possibly more than a dozen, of sickness tied to E. Coli bacteria in the central region of Wisconsin over the 2012 winter holiday season, the CDC said.

The bacteria can cause dehydration, bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps and, in the most severe cases, kidney failure.

"Despite ongoing outreach efforts addressing the dangers associated with consuming undercooked or raw ground beef, this regional holiday tradition continues to be associated with outbreaks," the CDC said.

Jubilant amateur chefs can be seen in Web videos dining on blood-red beef chunks dusted with pepper, topped with onions, packed with capers, and piled onto sandwich bread with cheese and mustard.

The CDC urged retailers to discourage customers from consuming raw ground beef, which it said should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius).

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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