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Raw food: health risks are often underestimated

03/2023, 21.02.2023

The BfR publishes a special edition of its Consumer Monitor

A glass of raw milk for breakfast, a roll of raw ham during the lunch break and a homemade smoothie with frozen berries in the afternoon - raw or unheated food is a regular component of the population's menu. This is shown by a current, representative survey by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). Raw animal and vegetable products should be consumed with caution. They can contain pathogenic germs such as salmonella, listeria and Campylobacter and lead to foodborne infections. Small children, people with pre-existing conditions, the elderly and pregnant women are particularly at risk. "The health risks of raw foods are often underestimated," says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "Heating protects the consumer. Diseases can be avoided with simple kitchen hygiene rules. At-risk-groups of people in particular should only eat raw animal food that has been heated sufficiently."

Click for the BfR Consumer Monitor Special, Raw Food information brochure:

Particularly popular raw foods include raw sausage and raw ham, which are eaten several times a week by more than a third of those surveyed. At least one to three times a month, 73% of those surveyed eat raw meat and sausage products, followed by soft cheese made from raw milk (57%). Other foods eaten with the same frequency by around a third of those surveyed include raw meat (38%), cold-smoked fish (33%) and frozen berries (33%). While about one in five (21%) eats raw sweet dough with eggs at least one to three times a month, only one in eight (12%) eat raw dough without eggs. 19% of respondents drink raw milk at least one to three times a month.

Every year around 100,000 cases of illness are reported in Germany that may have been caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites in food. The number of unreported cases is likely to be much higher. While salmonella, listeria, and norovirus are well known to the majority of the population, other food-related pathogens are less understood. Particularly surprising: Although campylobacteriosis has been the most frequently reported bacterial food-borne illness in Germany and Europe for many years, just under one quarter (23%) of people know the causative pathogen Campylobacter. The same applies to the abbreviations STEC, EHEC and VTEC, which stand for particularly dangerous Escherichia coli bacteria (27%). The pathogens mentioned could lurk in a variety of raw foods: Salmonella and Campylobacter can occur in poultry, chicken eggs and raw meat and sausage products, while listeria can occur in cold-smoked fish products and raw milk cheese. Norovirus can occur in raw oysters and frozen berries and STEC can occur in flour.

Perceptions of health risks sometimes differ greatly between the various raw or unheated foods. The majority of respondents see a medium to (very) high health risk in particular with raw fish and raw seafood, raw meat, raw eggs and raw sweet dough with eggs. Frozen berries, on the other hand, are perceived as the least risky. Other foods that the majority of those surveyed also associate with a (very) low health risk are soft cheese made from raw milk, cold-smoked fish, raw sausage and raw ham, as well as raw dough without eggs.

In order to protect oneself from foodborne infections, it is important to implement kitchen hygiene rules to prevent pathogens from spreading from raw foods to other foods. Small children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems should only eat raw food from animals if it has been sufficiently heated beforehand.

About the BfR Consumer Monitor

Whether antimicrobial resistance, microplastics, salmonella or aluminium in foods - which health risks does population know about? What is it that worries them? The BfR Consumer Monitor, a representative population survey that has been conducted regularly since 2014, provides answers to these and other questions. To this end, around 1,000 people living in private households in Germany take part in telephone interviews conducted on behalf of the BfR. Furthermore, the BfR conducts representative surveys on individual topics of particular current interest, such as tattoos, e-cigarettes, superfoods or food additives.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL). The BfR advises the Federal Government and the German federal states (“Laender”) on questions of food, chemicals, and product safety. The BfR conducts independent research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.


Publications - BfR Consumer Monitor

Date Title Size
BfR Consumer Monitor 2023, Special Raw food 552.9 KB


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