Why don't animals get food poisoning?

Maybe this is a silly question, but what better place to ask it.

With all the scare stories about undercooked meat, nasty critters hiding on unwashed countertops, jack in the box e-coli burgers, deadly chicken nasties which will kill you unless you burn them and the chicken beyond all recognition, and the like, it got me thinking.

Animals such as lions, tigers, wolves, and just about any carnivorous predator eat raw meat all the time. every day, for their entire lives.

I saw one show on animal planet, i think, in which captive aligators were fed dead chickens. uncooked of course.

The miracle of satellite tv has also taught me that hamburger is especially dangerous (much more so than a steak from the same animal) because it is ground up, and is much more likely to harbor bits of fecal matter.

Now most carnivors surely ingest this, um, matter.

This leads me to the following possible conclusions:

  1. Humans are relatively new to the meat-eating club. We haven’t evolved the resistance to the food-poisoning bacteria that other species have

  2. Animals suffer food poisoning, sometimes to the point of death, all the time. Dogs and cats I have owned have thrown up with much more regularity than i ever have. Altho ugh they didn’t seem to suffer the same ill effects I did when I’ve eaten undercooked animals.

  3. This whole food-poisoning thing is an over-hyped scare. I can point to a few occasions where I’ve become ill after eating undercooked meat, but I seem to have gotten through it ok.

  4. Our mass-producing of animal meat and subsequent processing leads to the spread of a generally rare occurance of bacteria being spread. i.e. chickens crammed into small cages together, cows/lambs/whatever in small enclosed areas with fecal matter being strewn all about and spreading from animal to animal, and finally, the slaughterhouse, where thousands of animals per day are processed. Blood, guts, and whatever else are intermixed with thousands of other animals, so the rare e-coli is spread throughout. A lone chicken hunted in the wild would probably be safer than a processed chiken, in other words.

Well, now i want to be a vegatarian, but anyway. Any theories?

and please excuse my typos. I really should proof-read :smiley:

It appears to me you’ve done an admirable job answering your own question, except for a couple of points.

E. Coli bacteria are just the opposite of rare; they exist by the zillions in the guts of humans and almost all other animals. They inhabit nearly every exposed surface (in varying degrees of concentration and viability) where animals live and defecate and are slaughtered or eaten; they are frequently responsible for fatal cases of food poisoning in humans. The E. coli (like all pathogenic) bacteria are constantly evolving strains which frequently prove more virulent and resitant to our immune systems.

Sure, the news media like us to be scared, but I think in this particular case their warnings are justified. I’m 46 years old and have never had food poisoning, but I’m not taking any chances these days. I wash my cutlery/hands/countertops/what have you much more frequently and thoroughly than I used to.

I also saw on the Discovery Channel News last night there was a recent case of 26 people infected with e. coli by swimming in a lake in Washington State. The source of the bacteria in the water is still unknown, but it may be as simple as wild animals defecating in or near the water. Those damn racoons have a lot of nerve, eh?

Reminds me of how my mom fed anything, anything at all, to our dog.
Me: “Mom, this meat has been sitting out for three days, and I accidentally injected it with smallpox.”
Mom: “Well, feed it to the dog.”

– Greg, Atlanta

Actually, you probably have and just didn’t know it. Have you ever had the “flu” and ended up spending a lot of time in the bathroom? That was food poisoning.

Most cases of food poisoning lead to diarrhea and/or vomiting. For a healthy individual, it means a few days out of work. For someone whose health isn’t the best, it can be life-threatening. Other than botulism (which animals won’t get unless they eat from cans) most common types of food poisoning are only a minor inconvenience to a healthy individual. It’s the same thing with animals. Otherwise healthy individuals get over it; sickly ones die.

As for E. coli, everyone is infected with the stuff. As long as it stays in the intestines, though, it does you no harm.


I think e coli is only one of many organisms that can cause food poisoning.

My guess is back in the good old days, when we were hunters and gatherers, our immune systems were more in tune with other wild animals, and we had a better tolerance for an occasional bad bug.

A good analogy I think is how the french, who seldom bathe or brush their teeth, have a lower incidence of infection related to poor hygiene.


Well, not to gross you out (too much, at least), the fecal matter in the ground beef and hamburger isn’t from the dead animal. It’s from the nasty so and so grinding the meat. This is usually because the so and so wiped but didn’t wash. Another issue is that the predators in the wild might not be eating the intestines; that’s a WAG.

Bon appetite!

No. The flu (influenza) is a respiratory disease.

Monty, in the slaughterhouse, the fecal matter does come from the dead animal itself. When the intestines are cut out, sometimes they’re nicked and this allows feces to splash all over the meat. Occasionally the meat falls on the floor (which is covered with a pool of blood and feces) and is hung back up to be processed. Ground beef is more likely to contain feces because it’s made from bits and pieces from several animals mixed together, so one infected piece of meat taints the whole batch.

When food is prepared to eat (in homes or in restaurants), unsafe food handling is the culprit. This includes not only failure to wash one’s hands, but also failure to cook meat thoroughly and cross-contamination between tainted and untainted foods.

As for the flu being a respiratory disease, as Nickrz said, this is absolutely true. I think RealityChuck’s point was that people don’t realize this. When I was growing up, mom referred to vomiting/diarrhea as “stomach flu”, and this was believed to be spread the same way as the common cold. There was no connection, in our minds, to food poisoning. At a recent family gathering, 12 people became violently ill from “stomach flu”, apparently from the shrimp. I’m surprised my frail 98 year old grandma didn’t actually die, she was so sick. Even after I explained the concept of food-borne illness, mom still can’t believe that the sickness was spread by the food.

I’m no doctor, and nothing resembling an expert, but here’s what I’ve always heard:

Those nasty little “24-hour bugs” are more than likely food poisoning. It makes more snse to me than calling it the flu, or stomach flu, since colds & flu tend to last a few days (more for real influenza, of course), and those nasties we call “bugs” don’t usually run for more than a day.

As for e. coli, I’ve always heard that one of the easiest ways to avoid it is by cooking meat all the way through. No pink. Well done. And make sure your hands & cooking areas are really, really clean. I also heard the news reports about people getting it from swimming, and I really don’t know how one could avoid that, except to not swim, but that would suck.

I’ve heard too that young children are far more susceptible to e. coli than adults, because their immune systems aren’t fully developed. So you really want to make sure that your kids food is thoroghly cooked. This includes fast-food. Cut your child’s hamburger in half & check to make sure it’s cooked through before you let them eat it. If it’s not done, take it back & get another one. Trust me, the restaurant WILL comply. They’d rather cook you a new burger than see themselves on the news with a headline saying a child had died as a result of eating their food.

(sound of sopabox sliding under the desk)

The relatively recent tendency to blame any gastro-intestinal upset (toilet time, either end) on “food poisoning” has become a little bit too facile for my taste.

“If you’ve ever spent time with diarrhea or vomiting, you’ve been the victim of food poisoning” type statements don’t prove anything, and are unprovable in and of themselves. There are just too many other causes for such illnesses for me to buy into this line of reasoning. If the actual percentage of cases versus other causes were known or presented, it might be a different story.

I might offer “ingestion of massive quantities of cheap red wine” as a case in point, but this is also a form of “food poisoning” although not of the microbial variety.

This is definitely true for ground beef. However, not all meats have to cooked to brown all the way through. For instance, a medium rare steak is safe, b/c the surface (the only place on the steak where e.coli could reside) has been cooked thoroughly. Steak, etc. tartar is a no-no b/c you haven’t cooked the surface.

What makes ground beef so dangerous is that you take dozens, perhaps hundreds, of carcasses and mish-mash them. Your risk increases: 1) Because you have hundreds of carcasses in the mix, and your chances that one of them was contaminated increases (think multiple partners and the risk of STD’s); and 2) You’ve taken the surface area of any contaminated meat and ground it. In order to kill the bacteria now, you have to cook the meat inside and out.

In response to the OP, I would list another possible reason: Some animals have developed protective mechanisms to deal with substances they are likely to come into contact with while eating their usual diet. Quickest examples I can think of would be camels or goats that can eat stuff, plants in particular, that would be noxious or toxic to a lot of other grazers; or (not on firm ground here) honey-eating animals that are resistant to bee stings.

These are chemicals, not bacteria, so it may not directly address the E. Coli issue but I’ll throw it in for a WAG.

“non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem”
– William of Ockham

So: take a quantity of ground meat & split in into 3 equal piles: one pile for my dinner, one mystery pile, and one for NickRZ to test. If Nick’s test pile comes up E.coli negative, should I switch ?

“Proverbs for Paranoids, 1: You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.”

  • T.Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow.

That’s what I love about the SD: if there’s more than 5 answers to a post, someone has always said what I was gonna say. In this case it was referring to the surface area of ground meat. There’s just so much more of it, it goes bad so much more quickly.

I’m highly sensitive to skanky smells and tastes, and even the “freshest” ground meat from a very classy market seems a little “off” to me. That’s why I select one or two chuck roasts and hand them to the butcher to grind for me on the spot. Such ground meat is completely free of any but the nicest fresh meat smell, and tastes a thousand times better.

My second choice, interestingly, would be pre-frozen tubes of ground meat from mass producers. They tend to be very consistent, and very tasty. In the back of the market, who knows what random mix of crap they are putting in there, and how many times they’ve recycled it?

And lastly, all this talk about people not washing their hands reminds me of one of my favorite jokes:

A Harvard man and a Yalie were using the restroom. When the Harvard man finished, he washed his hands. When the Yalie finished, he zipped up and headed for the door. The Harvard man spoke up: “At Harvard, we wash our hands after we use the bathroom!” to which the Yalie replied: “Well, at Yale we don’t piss on our hands!”


I am #1. Everyone else is #2 or lower.

Reading this thread, all I can think about is seeing a news expose’ a couple of years ago, about the unsafe practices that were going on in some grocery chain’s meat departments. (Was it Food Lion?)

For instance, when ground beef was too old to sell, they didn’t throw it out; they just sent it through the grinder again, along with the whole meat being ground. This was quite efficient at distributing the bacteria evenly. So instead of, say, 20 pounds of fresh ground meat and 5 pounds of trash, you have 25 pounds of stuff that looks fresh but may still be dangerous to eat.


Of course I don’t fit in; I’m part of a better puzzle.

Animals DO get food poisoning, especially dogs that roam outside and eat garbage. I work part-time at a vet clinic, and we’ve treated several dogs for food poisoning, not always successfully. They usually throw up somebody’s leftovers.

Most carnivores aren’t as susceptible to food poisoning because they have very short digestive tracts, especially obligate carnivores. They basically digest only one substance - meat. Meat is easily and quickly digested and provides a lot of energy for the amount eaten. Horses, on the other hand, have extremely long intestinal tracts because they have to digest large quantities of plant matter, which is a time consuming process, and provides much less energy per amount consumed. This long intestine makes horses extremely susceptible to digestive problems.

Which would explain why Mr. Ed was so grumpy…

I heard that horses can’t throw up. And I never have seen one throw up either. Has anyone else? I even remember hearing that if they get seasick, they will die because of this inability to upchuck.I know when I get seasick, I FEEL like I’m going to die.