Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Andrew from Louisville, KY. Andrew Wonders, “Why do we have to cook our meat?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Andrew!
It's late on a Saturday night and you're flipping through the channels on the television, looking for something worth watching. Suddenly, your screen is filled with the face of a lion. As you watch, the camera pans out and you realize the lion is watching a gazelle.
You've stumbled upon the nature channel showing a documentary about African predators. You're a fan of the big cats, so you keep watching to see what will happen. You suspect things won't end well for the gazelle, and you're right.
As the gazelle moves within range, the lion pounces. A struggle ensues, but it's over shortly. The lion is victorious. Dinner for the evening has been won.
Predators, like big cats and bears, eat other animals without cooking them first. Why do humans cook meat when other carnivores just eat it raw?
If you've ever eaten sushi or steak tartare, then you know that it is possible for humans to eat raw meat. These dishes are specially prepared, however, and are exceptions to the general rule that meat must be cooked to be consumed safely by humans.
Meats, such as beef, pork, and chicken, can contain harmful bacteria and parasites. If eaten raw, these bacteria and parasites could make you really sick. When you cook meat properly, though, any harmful organisms are killed during the cooking process, allowing you to eat the cooked meat safely.
So how do animals eat raw meat? Some animals have stomach acids that will kill bacteria and parasites. Others do indeed get sick from eating raw meat, but they don't have any other choice. They have to eat, and they don't have the capability to cook their food.
Also consider that predators immediately eat their fallen prey. Up until that point, the prey's immune system worked to keep the prey healthy. However, meat that humans consume is processed in factories and not eaten immediately. That means the raw meat has the potential to be exposed to a variety of germs before we purchase it from grocery stores.
Scientists don't know for sure when or why humans started cooking meat. Some speculate that humans evolved to cook meat because it allowed them to get the calories and nutrients they needed more easily.
While raw meat has more calories and nutrients than cooked meat, human jaw muscles and digestive organs have to work harder to chew and digest raw meat. The cooking process helps to break down tough proteins, making it easier for humans to eat and process. Some scientists believe eating cooked meat was an important step in the evolution of the big, complex human brain.
If you're curious about how long you need to cook meat, it varies depending upon the type of meat. Ground meats, such as beef and sausage, generally need to be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160º F (71.1º C). Fowl, such as chicken and turkey, usually should be cooked to at least 165º F (73.8º C). Fresh beef and pork in the form of steaks, chops, and roasts should be cooked to at least 145º F (62.7º C).