Is It Safe to Eat Raw Salmon?

Fish and seafood are great sources of lean protein that can be an excellent part of a healthy diet. Studies show that a diet that includes fish and seafood helps maintain good heart health and proper growth in children.

One popular way around the world to serve seafood is raw, often in the form of sushi. One of the most common fish that people eat raw is salmon.

Health Benefits of Salmon

Salmon consistently ranks as a superfood for its many health benefits. It has a rich, satisfying taste, and you can prepare it in a number of ways.

Omega-3 fatty acids. One of the top health benefits of eating salmon, either raw or cooked, is that it is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help the body in several ways, including:

  • Improved brain function
  • Decreased risk of cardiovascular problems, like heart attack and heart arrhythmia
  • Reduced risk of stroke and high blood pressure 
  • Improved cell function
  • Improved control of the body’s inflammatory processes
  • Joint protection
  • Improved mood

Protein. Salmon is a great source of the proteins your body needs to build muscles, bone, and cartilage. This protein helps maintain muscle mass while you lose weight, in addition to keeping a healthy metabolic rate and bone density.

Antioxidants. There are several varieties of salmon, but they are all known for their pinkish-orange color. This color comes from a compound called astaxanthin, an antioxidant. It helps to prevent several diseases, including neurodegenerative (loss of brain function), cardiovascular, and inflammatory diseases.

Ways to Eat Raw Salmon

Eating raw salmon is popular in many countries all over the world. In Japan, sushi and sashimi are traditional dishes that feature a variety of raw fish, including salmon. 

In Hawaii, eating raw salmon is common in the form of poké. This is a salad that features raw fish, vegetables, and sometimes ingredients like rice or fruit. Singapore also has a salad dish called yu sheng that features raw salmon.

Other cultures use raw salmon to prepare foods like ceviche or smoked salmon. Smoked salmon is not cooked but rather cured using smoke. Like other forms of raw salmon, the USDA says it’s safe to eat when kept refrigerated and vacuum-sealed.

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Risks of Eating Raw Fish and Seafood

While eating raw salmon is quite common, there are risks with eating any kind of raw fish or seafood.

Parasites. Some kinds of raw fish, including salmon, contain parasites that can make you sick. These parasites are normally destroyed by heat when cooking but can also be eliminated by freezing the fish if you intend to eat salmon raw. However, one of the risks of eating sushi or raw fish in restaurants is that there is currently no regulation in the U.S. to make sure that chefs flash-freeze fish before preparing it.

Questionably graded fish. When buying raw fish to prepare at home, many people seek out sushi-grade fish. This name is used to give the consumer an idea of the freshness or quality of the fish.

But there are currently no regulations in the U.S. on the use of the term “sushi-grade”. This means that any raw fish can technically be labeled as sushi-grade. Many stores use this term to describe their freshest fish available.

Bacteria. Another of the risks of eating raw salmon is bacteria. Two common kinds of food poisoning that people can experience from eating raw fish are salmonella and Vibrio vulnificus. While salmonella is more common, Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium that lives in warm saltwater.

Cross-contamination. Eating raw salmon or seafood may not be safe due to cross-contamination. This can happen when even high-quality fish come into contact with an object like a knife or plate that has germs on it.

At a restaurant, cross-contamination can also happen if a chef uses a cooking utensil or gloves that have come into contact with other raw ingredients.

Special Concerns

There are some things you should think about when eating raw salmon. For certain people, it is not safe to eat raw salmon at all. This includes:

  • Pregnant women
  • People with compromised immune systems 
  • Young children
  • Older people
  • People taking immune-suppressing medications

If you are going to prepare raw salmon at home, there are some guidelines to remember to ensure your fish is safe to eat.

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Selecting your fish. Whether buying from a fish market or grocery store, make sure that the salmon you buy is refrigerated at at least 40°F or is on ice. To be safe, you can also buy frozen fish, which has a better chance of parasites being eliminated.

Make sure that the salmon you select doesn’t smell too fishy and that it is firm and shiny in appearance. Ask your fishmonger for help selecting a fish, and make sure that you only buy from licensed sellers.

Storage. Once home, fresh fish should only be kept in the fridge for up to 2 days. Fish should be stored in an airtight container or be well-wrapped to preserve the freshness. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Is Raw Seafood Safe to Eat?”

Cleveland Clinic: “Get the Scoop on Sushi Safety.”

FDA: “Selecting and Serving Fresh and Frozen Seafood Safely.”

PBS: “The Myth of Sushi Grade.”

SafeBeat: “12 Benefits of Salmon for the Heart, Brain, and Much More.”

Singapore Food Agency: “Ready-to-Eat Raw Fish.”

The World’s Healthiest Foods: “Salmon.”

USDA: “Keeping In-Demand Smoked Salmon Safe to Eat.”

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