Can Salmon Be Eaten Raw?

Nearly every fish or other type of critter that can be found in the sea is edible.  However not every type is edible raw.  Raw fish has been popular in the West for some time and sushi and sashimi have been a part of Japanese cuisine for centuries.  Just a few of the classic raw fish that you may find in a sushi bar include: tuna, salmon, clams, scallops, abalone, yellowtail, halibut, flounder, squid, gizzard shad, mackerel, sea bass, porgies and snapper.

Salmon is a favorite choice for many who choose to eat raw fish.  However, unless that salmon has been frozen first it would be wise to pass on eating it.  This is because a tiny tapeworm larva has often been known to lurk in the raw salmon flesh. It resides in this flesh waiting for someone to eat it o that it can take up residence in the digestive tract.  Diphyllobothrium latum, carried by freshwater fish such as the anadromous wild salmon is the largest known human tapeworm in existence today.

After the larva is ingested by a fish eating mammal it hooks onto the small intestine where it then grows to maturity, feeding off of its host for nutrients, especially those as vitamin B12.  Cooking the fish or freezing it at -31 degrees Fahrenheit or colder for 15 hours is the only way to kill the larvae and reduce the risk of ingesting it.  Marinating it will not kill the larvae.  Freezing fish at slightly higher temperatures for longer periods of time could also kill the larvae but is usually not practiced because it tends to diminish the quality of the fish.

There have been many instances of Diphyllobothrium latum infections.  In the fall of 1980 there were 36 known cases on the East Coast attributed to raw salmon and in 1984 there were 17 more people in the village of King Salmon, Alaska who acquired tapeworms from consuming the fish.  There have also been many cases throughout history where restaurants have been sued due to claims of customers getting tapeworms after consuming undercooked meals consisting of salmon.  In Chicago, a man sued a local restaurant for $100,000 after acquiring a tapeworm that was nine feet long after eating an undercooked salmon salad in 2006.  These worms have been known to grow anywhere up to 20 feet long.

It is highly recommended that all seafood individuals decide to eat raw be previously frozen.  It is better to be safe than sorry.  Although fresh raw fish may taste better in some people’s opinions, it is more susceptible to parasites and due to this fact is a matter that should never be taken lightly in any case.

Another parasite that is commonly found in raw salmon is known as the seal worm.  These worms often infest the flesh of salmon, mackerel, Pacific rockfish, jacksmelt, halibut and flounders.  Unlike other parasitic creatures found in the fish, they are easily visible to the naked eye and can be easily removed if you catch them.  These worms are little, brown and curl up like a spring. They can be missed if not looked for carefully.  Some fish owners in New England have been known to put their fish fillets inside of a light box first to detect the worms.  This is one reason cod is often never seen at many sushi bars.

The good news is that unlike tapeworms neither the cod nor the seal worm will kill you.  If you happen to eat one, they will typically pass right through you without you ever knowing that it was consumed in the first place.  However, sometimes they will successfully attach themselves to the stomach, causing nausea and abdominal pain.  They will die soon enough, but sometimes not without first causing a lot of unpleasant pain within its host.

When consuming raw fish it is often a good idea to consider the fact that this fish has most likely not been treated well from the second that it came over the rail of the boat. Therefore it is not going to be a good fish to consume raw either.

Sushi-grade fish are often caught quickly, bled upon capture, gutted soon after and then iced thoroughly.  A piece of fish can be good to eat cooked but taste really nasty when eaten raw.  Cooking kills a lot of bacteria that begin to accumulate in raw fish after it has died.

If you are good at catching fish and prefer to eat them raw it is best to eat species that are edible raw.  A few other tips you can follow to reduce your chances of being infected with a parasite are as follows:

  • Bleed the fish by slicing through the gills or cutting a slice near the tail all the way to the backbone.
  • Gut the fish on the boat.  Most parasites that are often found in fish, once lived in the animals guts and then migrated to the flesh after it died.  Fast gutting prevents this in most cases.
  • Bring ice onto the boat even in cold weather.  Buy many pounds of it and buy more than one bag.  Chill your fish on the ice after following these steps.  It will be worth it in the end and your digestive tract will thank you later when it is not crawling with worms.

The best way to not become ill from eating salmon is to cook it rather than eating it raw.  If you do eat it raw always make sure that it has been frozen first.

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