Many people enjoy the texture and flavor of raw or undercooked salmon, but is it actually safe to eat salmon that’s still pink in the middle? There are a few factors to consider when determining if raw or undercooked salmon poses a health risk.
Is it safe to eat raw salmon?
Eating raw salmon can be risky because of potential parasites and bacteria. Salmon, like many types of seafood, can contain parasites like tapeworm, roundworm, and anisakiasis. When salmon is cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145°F, any dangerous parasites are killed. Raw salmon may also contain bacteria like Salmonella, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, and Listeria monocytogenes. Again, cooking the salmon to the proper temperature kills any harmful bacteria that may be present.
For these reasons, the FDA recommends cooking salmon to an internal temperature of 145°F. Consuming raw or undercooked salmon comes with a higher risk of food poisoning or parasitic infection.
Is it safe to eat salmon raw in the middle?
Eating salmon that’s still pink or raw in the middle also comes with risks. The outer portion of the salmon may reach 145°F during cooking, but the innermost part won’t get hot enough to kill parasites or bacteria. Parasites like Anisakiasis are often found in the belly area of salmon. So if the thickest, center part of the fillet is still raw, parasites could still be alive in that portion.
Bacteria can also survive in the raw interior of partially cooked salmon. Food safety experts warn against eating any raw or undercooked salmon because of this risk.
How to tell if salmon is cooked properly
To make sure your salmon is fully cooked and safe to eat, check the thickest part with a food thermometer. The thermometer should read at least 145°F. Here are some visual signs that your salmon is fully cooked through:
- The flesh is opaque and flaky throughout.
- The color is pale pink opaque throughout, without any raw red or translucent areas.
- The fish separates into moist flakes easily.
If your salmon still has a bright pink or raw red center, it needs to be cooked longer for food safety.
Safe handling tips for raw salmon
If you choose to eat raw salmon despite the risks, follow these safe handling practices:
- Buy sushi-grade salmon, which has been flash frozen to kill parasites.
- Avoid raw salmon if you have a compromised immune system.
- Use a sharp knife and cutting board designated only for raw meats.
- Wash hands, utensils, and cutting boards after touching raw salmon.
- Serve raw salmon as fresh as possible, within a couple days of purchasing.
- Store raw salmon on ice or in the coldest part of the fridge.
Tips for cooking salmon safely
To eliminate risks from raw salmon, always cook farmed or wild salmon to an internal temperature of at least 145°F. Here are some tips for safely cooking salmon:
- Use a food thermometer to check the thickest part of the fish.
- Allow the salmon to rest for 3 minutes after cooking before eating.
- Cook salmon until opaque and flakes easily with a fork.
- Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards and utensils for raw and cooked salmon.
- Store leftovers within 2 hours of cooking in shallow airtight containers.
- Reheat leftovers to 165°F before serving again.
Eating raw or undercooked salmon comes with health risks due to potential bacteria, parasites, and viruses. For food safety, salmon should always be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F according to FDA guidelines. Use a thermometer to check that the thickest part of the fish reaches this safe minimum temperature. Properly cooking salmon to flaky doneness gives peace of mind that any pathogens have been killed, allowing you to enjoy the full flavor and nutritional benefits of salmon without getting sick.
Following safe handling, storage, cooking, and reheating techniques for both raw and cooked salmon also reduces the chances of food poisoning. Take these extra precautions if choosing to consume raw salmon, and verify any sushi-grade salmon was correctly frozen beforehand to kill parasites. Checking for proper doneness and employing safe salmon handling will allow you to incorporate this nutritious fish into your diet without worry.
Salmon is a delicious and healthy fish when handled safely. Cook your salmon thoroughly, use good sanitation practices, and take care to avoid cross-contamination. Taking these precautions provides assurance that salmon prepared properly at home is safe, tasty, and nutritious to enjoy.
Nutritional benefits of salmon
In addition to being tasty, salmon provides excellent nutritional value. Here are some of the top health benefits of eating salmon:
- High in protein – necessary for building and repairing muscle tissue.
- Rich in omega-3 fatty acids – reduces inflammation and risk of heart disease.
- Great source of B vitamins – supports nervous system and converts food into energy.
- Good source of potassium – helps control blood pressure.
- Loaded with selenium – antioxidant helps prevent cellular damage and infection.
- Contains vitamin D – builds strong bones and boosts immunity.
- Low in mercury – less mercury contamination compared to many fish.
Due to this stellar nutritional profile, eating salmon regularly can provide many health benefits. These include:
- Heart health – lowers blood pressure, triglycerides, and risk of abnormal heart rhythms.
- Brain function – supports memory, cognition, and mental health.
- Anti-inflammatory effects – reduces systemic inflammation to lower disease risk.
- Vision health – lowers risks of macular degeneration and cataracts.
- Strong bones and muscles – promotes bone mineral density and lean muscle mass.
- Glowing skin and hair – supports hair growth and keeps skin hydrated.
- Weight control – increases satiety and promotes a healthy body weight.
As long as the salmon is prepared and handled safely, adding this fatty fish to your diet a couple times a week can boost overall health and wellness.
Potential risks of undercooked salmon
Eating raw or undercooked salmon comes with some risks and potential side effects. Here are some of the most common dangers of consuming salmon that’s still pink in the middle:
One of the top risks is food poisoning from bacteria like Salmonella or Vibrio. Typical symptoms include:
- Stomach cramps
Food poisoning usually resolves on its own within a week. Severe cases may require hospitalization for dehydration.
Parasites like tapeworm, roundworm, and Anisakiasis can infect humans who eat raw or undercooked salmon. Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Allergic reactions
Some parasites like Anisakiasis may require medical treatment to fully kill and remove them from the gastrointestinal tract.
Viruses like norovirus, hepatitis A, and rotavirus can contaminate raw salmon and spread through consumption. Typical symptoms of viral food poisoning include:
- Watery diarrhea
- Stomach cramps
- Low-grade fever
- Muscle aches
Rest and hydration are usually the main treatments for viral food poisoning. Immunocompromised individuals may develop more severe illness.
Raw salmon also has a slightly higher risk of potential mercury exposure. Too much mercury can cause:
- Numbness and tingling
- Impaired cognition
- Memory problems
- Muscle weakness
- Vision changes
- High blood pressure
Those who eat salmon frequently may wish to opt for thoroughly cooked fillets to reduce this risk.
Population at higher risk
While consuming raw or undercooked salmon can make anyone sick, certain populations have a higher risk of infection and complications. These vulnerable groups should always cook salmon thoroughly to avoid illness:
- Pregnant women – illness can harm the developing fetus.
- Young children – their immune systems are still developing.
- Older adults – decreased immune function makes illness more dangerous.
- Those with compromised immunity – autoimmune disorders, chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS, and transplant patients.
- Those with chronic liver or kidney disease.
Species of salmon like king salmon and sockeye salmon may have higher levels of parasites as well. It’s important that high risk individuals cook all salmon varieties to the recommended safe internal temperature.
How to inspect raw salmon
If you plan to use raw salmon in sushi, sashimi, ceviche, or tartare, it’s extremely important to inspect the quality and freshness first. Here’s what to look for when selecting raw salmon:
- Smell – should not have a fishy odor. Fresh salmon has a mild scent.
- Color – flesh should be deep red to pale pink. Brown or yellow areas indicate spoiled fish.
- Texture – should be firm with a moist sheen, not overly slimy.
- Packaging – no tears, damage, or leaking liquid.
- Dates – purchase salmon before the sell-by and use-by dates.
- Storage – should be on ice or refrigerated below 40°F.
- Eyes – should be clear and not sunken, cloudy, or murky.
- Gills – should be bright red, not brown or green tinted.
Avoid any raw salmon that fails these inspections. Only high quality, sushi-grade salmon should be eaten raw.
Types of raw salmon dishes
When carefully handled, raw salmon can be used in a variety of appetizing dishes. Here are some popular ways to enjoy raw salmon:
Thinly sliced raw salmon served with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger.
Raw salmon layered over vinegar rice. Common types include salmon nigiri or salmon rolls.
Cubed raw salmon tossed with rice, vegetables, sesame oil, soy sauce, and chili sauce.
Raw salmon “cooked” by marinating in citrus juice with onions, peppers, and seasonings.
Finely chopped raw salmon mixed with capers, onions, and dill, often served over crackers or crostinis.
Thin slices of raw salmon dressed with olive oil, cracked black pepper, lemon juice, and parmesan cheese.
Lox or smoked salmon
While not fully raw, cold-smoked salmon is initially cured or brined then lightly smoked and sliced. Often enjoyed on bagels with cream cheese and capers.
When using reputable restaurants and sources, these raw salmon dishes can make tasty appetizers or meals. But eating them still comes with some inherent risks of foodborne illness.
Frequently asked questions
Can you get worms from eating raw salmon?
Yes, eating raw or undercooked salmon comes with the risk of parasitic worms like tapeworm, roundworm, and cod worm. Proper freezing techniques or cooking salmon to 145°F kills any worms present.
What happens if you eat bad salmon?
Consuming spoiled, raw, or contaminated salmon can cause food poisoning symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, chills, and stomach cramps. In rare cases it can also result in dangerous invasive parasitic infections.
Can you eat Costco salmon raw?
No, it is unsafe to eat Costco raw salmon without further cooking. Costco salmon is not sold as sushi or sashimi grade, meaning it has not undergone treatment to kill parasites. Raw Costco salmon would pose a high risk of parasitic infections.
Is it OK to eat salmon medium rare?
No, salmon should always be cooked to 145°F internally to kill any potential bacteria, parasites, and viruses. At medium rare, the center of the salmon can still be raw posing safety risks.
Can you eat salmon tartare while pregnant?
No, the CDC advises against eating raw or undercooked seafood while pregnant because of risks of foodborne illnesses. Pregnant women should only eat salmon cooked to 145°F for safety.
The bottom line
Ultimately, raw or undercooked salmon is not considered safe to eat due to the health risks posed by potential parasites, bacteria, viruses, and toxins. Cooking wild, farmed, fresh, or frozen salmon thoroughly to an internal temperature of at least 145°F kills any dangerous pathogens present in the fish. This eliminates the risk of foodborne illness from eating salmon. While the textures and flavors of raw salmon are appealing, it’s advisable to cook salmon fully to avoid food poisoning and complications.