Why can't I eat rotten meat?

Let’s say I have a big ol’ hunk of steak. I decide to leave it on the counter for a couple weeks, but covered very well so no bugs get on it (by bugs I mean insects and so forth, lots of bacteria will still get on it, but I’m counting on that.)

Now, the meat is certainly rotted by this point. But what if I cooked it and ate it? In theory, as long as I cook the entire steak hot enough, wouldn’t everything bad die? I certainly wouldn’t be able to enjoy it medium rare, but if I cooked it well past well done (say I just put it in a 300 degree oven for four hours) what would me me sick? Could I still eat it and be fine? Or does something actually happen to the meat itself during the rotting process that makes it bad to go into my system?

And what if the meat in question were fish or chicken? Would that make any appreciable difference?

Many bacteria generate toxins that are resistant to heat. So the bacteria die, but the poisons are left behind.

Note, however, that a lot of the meat you eat is, if not rotten, at least “aged”.

The problem is only in part the live bacteria in rotting meat. A more serious problem is the toxins they produce, which remain even after the bacteria have been killed.

For example, in the case of the bacteria that produces botulism:

If you killed all the bacteria and heated the food long enough to destroy all the toxins, you might be able to eat it. However, I am not sure if there might not be some other toxins even more resistant to heat.

It should also be noted that the bacteria are using the nutrients in the meat and leaving their waste products. They may not be specifically toxic, but they’re also not necessarily “food” any more.

What about the rancidification of the fats in the meat? Will that create any substances that will cause unpleasant results?

Anyone here know if it’s possible to chemically “cleanse” meat of bacterial toxins, and end up with an edible product?

Only that make it tase yucky, I think.

Hang on a tic. If you really want to eat rancid meat there is nothing stopping you, bouv. I think that the smell stops most people from doing it and those who do eat it probably don’t do it again because of the effects of the above mentioned toxins. There is nothing stopping you except, hopefully, common sense.

I remember hearing, no cite, that the reason pepper and other spices were once so valuable is that they made “bad” meat palatable. True, do you think?

boiling and or washing twice would probably clense the meat of toxins(to a reasonable level). Since theoretically the bacteria are only on the surface of the meat.

I seem to recall actual historians saying it was bunk; people just didn’t eat bad meat - it was generally brought into market ‘on the hoof’, and was eaten shortly after being slaughtered. It may be that spices made preserved meat more palatable, but that’s a rather different thing.

That’s true with reasonably fresh meat, but after a couple of weeks of putrifying, I think bacteria will have penetrated well inside by breaking down the outer tissues.

most likely not true, spices were far too valuable back then to waste on bad meat.

Rotting isn’t only about bacteria, the enzymes as well as the lactic acid inside the tissue produced during slaughter also contribute significantly to the rotting process by breaking apart cell boundaries and producing several volatile compounds. In particular, various sulfur compounds are generated which, while probably not toxic themselves, produce the charecteristic “rotted” odour that humans find unpleasant.

That’s not even true for reasonably fresh meat. Animal tissue contains a network of blood vesslels, and no cell is more than two inches from a blood vessel. Blood vessels are by their nature designed to transport cells into the tissues and are just a scapable of transporting bacterial cells as blood cells.

There are usually more bacteria on the surface of fresh meat, but it’s by no means impossible for them to be found anwwhere in the flesh.

Theother problem of course is that you can’t really wash off many toxins. They are chemically bound to the cells of the meat itself. You might be able to scrape them off but washing them off is like washing off a stain.

People eat rotten food all the time, but if it’s rotten due to Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, Listeria monocytogenes, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Bacillus cereus, or Entero-pathogenic Escherichia coli, you could die.

      • Okay, this reminds me I have a couple of questions semi-related, so I’m crashing this thread.
  • A pal of mine who has lived in New Mexico said two things about vultures, one was that they vomit on you if you get too close, especially if they are eating–and the vomit is a horrible dark sludge that smells like the inside of a dead animal. The second thing was that they have so much toxin in their blood streams that no other animal can eat and digest vulture meat at all. If a dog gets ahold of vulture meat (however way they manage) and eats any of it, you’re supposed to keep the dog outside because they will be puking it all back up in a couple minutes, along with everything else they ate within the last couple days.
  • The vomiting matter I have read other accounts of, so it seems to be true. The “vultures being inedible” bit is the one I want to know. I searched Google for “preys upon vultures” and “preys upon buzzards” and got no hits. I did turn up the occasional recipe calling for buzzard meat, but these are always the Dungeons & Dragons or Harry Potter crowd so far. Is vulture meat edible or not?

The above bacteria mentioned by oury are not to be found on the vascular system of a healthy animal (assuming the meat came from a healthy animal), and therefore not in their blood vessels. So cooking the surface would get rid of the pathogenic bacteria… as long as you don’t poke the meat with a fork. Then forget it, better brown that steak.


  • I am missing something here: the guy has a bible, is flirting with schizophrenia and his HTML skillz stink, okay, I can deal with that most likely. But he has links to… pages on… -the vulture, the platypus, the elephant and the lion.
    -I am reaching for some order, is there some biblical signifigance I am missing? Or psychological connection, perhaps… …?

Just wanted to chime in to say I have some sourish smelling roast beef in my fridge and came on to ask the exact question of the OP.

The Straight Dope Message Board, answering your questions before you get a chance to ask them.

Blood is generally pretty sterile(at least from bacteria). If the cow is suffering from bacteremia then it has some pretty serious problems.

You’re probably right about this one though. I take back my statement.