Kibbeh Nayeh: Is this Arab Food Good for You?
By: Sarah Elbeshbishi/Arab America Contributing Writer
Minced lamb or beef mixed with bulgur, pureed onion, and various spices kneaded together forms a staple Lebanese dish that is also popular throughout the Levante region, one that is eaten raw and known as kibbeh nayeh.
In Lebanon, the people used to kill animals on Sundays or feast days and the meat was immediately eaten, raw which was a way for the Lebanese to guarantee the meat’s safety according to NPR.
With the holidays being here, kibbeh nayeh is sure to be on the table for some families on new year eve, but so is the concerns of eating raw meat.
Though kibbeh nayeh is not a new dish, concerns by the United States Department of Agriculture of serving raw meat to be eaten with pita bread, onions, and radishes have been recently raised.
In October 2017, the USDA had warned of the potential health risks of consuming kibbeh. Due to the uncooked nature of the meat used in the dish, the raw meat is a perfect host for food borne pathogens.
While this is the most recent report of the USDA condemning the consumption of raw meat through kibbeh nayeh, the health risks associated with consuming the dish are not new and have been repeated throughout the years.
Food Safety News reported that “raw meat is often the source of food borne illnesses and Kibbeh nayyeh has especially been linked to an illness,” referring to the 2013 multi-state Salmonella outbreak.
The 2013 Salmonella outbreak was later linked to a restaurant where all members of the outbreak consumed kibbeh. Not only was all the beef from the retailed restaurant recalled, but CDC also enforced the importance of deterring from eating uncooked meat.
Prior to this outbreak, in 2012 health officials in Windsor Essex Country banned serving kibbeh in restaurants and to the public. In this county, specifically “ground meat of public consumption must be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 71 C for 15 seconds,” according to CBC.ca.
Usually, if harmful bacteria is present in the meat products, it’s often on the outside and by cooking it, the risk of food poisoning is reduced because the heat kills the bacteria on the surface. Due to kibbeh being served raw, it does not have that extra layer of protection against bacteria.
Originally an incident regarding kibbeh, earlier that year, had made health official warier of the traditional dish and the fact that it does not fall under Ontario food premises regulations are just another reason for kibbeh to be eliminated from the menu.
Yet, according to the cbc.ca, the owner of a Middle Eastern supermarket in Canada, El Mayor, had stated he had served kibbeh for 17 years without any issues before.
The way the meat needs to be prepared for kibbeh poses a separate problem. Not only is there concern of eating raw meat, but the fine grinding of the meat also heightens contamination and health risks.
According to the USDA, “ground meat foods such as kibbeh are different because the outside of many cuts of meat, or the trimmings, are cut up, ground, and mixed together. The surface of the meat now becomes the inside and even a small amount of contamination can be spread throughout the entire batch.”
And though the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service goes through various checks and have regulations to ensure the safety of meat products, “adequate cooking is the best defense,” as stated by Food Safety News.
As a way to solve this issue, it is recommended that the traditional kibbeh dish is fried or baked and cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit as opposed to raw to ensure the dish’s safety to those consuming it.
While the CDC and USDA recommend not to consume raw meat due to safety, Arab Americans from the Levente region have their own methods to ensure safety.
Meat for kibbeh should never be from pre-ground meat from the supermarket but rather personally ordered to be grounded on clean blades. Its purpose is to decrease the risk of cross-contamination, something that seems to be emphasized when trying to be dissuaded from consuming raw meat.
Another way to ensure no cross-contamination is personally to grind the meat yourself. This way, you know that the blades are clean, and the meat has not touched anything else.
Although several health concerns are raised with the consumption of raw meat and governments are taking actions against it, the traditional dish of kibbeh nayeh has been around for a very long time and seems not to have posed much of a problem in the past.