What are the Risks of Eating Undercooked Salmon?

by Charlie
Fresh salmon steaks

Sashimi has become a delicacy in some parts of the world, which is entirely raw salmon. Whether you are a fan of it or not, most of us know that the freshness of raw meat is crucial to safety, and ingesting undercooked or raw meat poses great health risks.

How do we straddle the fine line between safe and fresh, and possible health issues?

A way to ensure food safety is to make sure everything is cooked all the way through, but that will increase the risk of dry and unpalatable meats. There has to be a way to still enjoy salmon that retains its juiciness in the center without risking infection or food poisoning, especially since salmon has a myriad of health benefits.

What happens when you eat undercooked salmon? Eating undercooked salmon may open yourself to the risk of contracting a tapeworm, getting sick due to bacterial and viral infection, and cross-contamination that poses greater issues for certain people such as pregnant women, children and seniors. 

The aftermath is scary, but there are ways to fully take advantage of this superfood without risking your health.

What Eating Undercooked Salmon Can Do to Your Health

The risks of eating undercooked salmon are very similar to raw seafood (or raw food of any kind). Keep in mind that when you are eating sashimi at your local sushi place, you are putting great confidence in the preparation of the food. 

If prepared properly, you should be fine, but the story ends very differently if the undercooked or raw salmon is not fresh. 

Parasitic, Bacterial and Viral Infection

Getting sick with an infection is one of the most likely results of eating undercooked and unsafe salmon. Parasites, for example, exist in raw fish and are eliminated during the cooking process thanks to high heat, which is the main reason why we cook our food. Parasitic infection can make you very sick. 

A common form of parasitic infection comes in the form of a tapeworm or a roundworm, which quite literally makes a home of your small intestine and can grow to over 30 feet long.

Bacterial and viral infections also make you sick, which can lead to mild (if you’re lucky) to severe side effects. Salmonella is an example of a bacteria that gives you bacterial infection from salmon (hence the name). 

Cross-Contamination

Cross-contamination happens when any food comes into contact with a cooking apparatus or other ingredient that has been contaminated. For example, if you use the same knife to prep contaminated fish to cut your steak, then the steak is spoiled as well. 

Cross-contamination poses the same risks as the infections, the difference is instead of being contained to one ingredient, your entire meal is impacted. Cross-contamination is more serious in restaurant establishments as you could endanger everyone, rather than just one table of patrons.

Should You Eat Salmon? – The Health Benefits

The potential dangers of eating uncooked salmon are enough to make anyone’s stomach turn, but is cutting out this valuable source of protein the best answer? We wouldn’t say so, because we believe that the benefits of incorporating salmon into your diet greatly outweigh the cons. So what are some of these advantages?

Omega Fatty Acids

Omega fatty acids are something salmon is renowned for, but what does it do? This substance is derived from the fish itself and has been synthesized into a supplement – fish oil. 

Omega fatty acids provide a multitude of health benefits such as increased brain function, cell function, and joint protection. It also works to lower your blood pressure, regulate inflammation (which is the root cause of many illnesses), and it can improve your mood as well. 

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are associated with improved immune function. Antioxidants are commonly found in brightly colored foods. Fresh salmon is a healthy pinkish-orange color, which indicates that it contains a compound known as astaxanthin, which is an antioxidant. 

Protein

As said, salmon is a great source of protein needed to help our bodies build muscle, bone and cartilage. Salmon is a common protein in diet nutrition because it helps maintain your muscle mass and regulate your metabolic rate, all while your body adjusts to the weight loss regimen. 

B Vitamins

Another benefit of salmon is the presence of B vitamins, such as the likes of vitamin B12, niacin, vitamin B6, riboflavin, and folic acid, which work to reduce inflammation, and repair DNA to keep your body in tip-top shape. 

How to Make Sure Your Salmon is Cooked and Safe

Salmon is too precious an ingredient to swear off of, but how do we include it as a dinner staple without risking our health? 

Salmon Selection

The selection process starts at your local grocer. You have to make sure you purchase fresh fish by checking to see if they are kept on ice, or at least frozen at 40-degrees Fahrenheit (around 4.5-degrees Celsius). 

If the information is not readily available, your best bet would be to choose frozen fish in the freezer section. The fish is usually prepackaged in vacuum-sealed plastic bags and is sold in bulk. 

Salmon Storage

The next step to ensuring food safety is to store it properly at home. If you purchased frozen fish, then you will have nothing to worry about as it can keep for a very long time in the freezer. 

However, once you have thawed the frozen salmon pieces or if you purchase fresh fish, they will only keep in your fridge for a maximum of 2 days. 

How to Properly Cook Salmon

If you have done everything right up to this point, then it’s time to get cooking. Even if you have selected and stored the fish properly, there is still a risk of contracting an infection, no matter how small. Follow our steps below to make sure your salmon comes out perfectly cooked.

Prepare a meat thermometer first. It’s not entirely necessary as you can still check if your salmon is cooked in other ways, but a meat thermometer will provide greater accuracy regardless of the cooking method.

It doesn’t matter whether you boil, steam, bake or grill your salmon, you want to do it until the internal temperature is about 145-degrees Fahrenheit (about 62-degrees Celsius).

How long it takes for the fish to reach this level of heat internally depends on your method of cooking, the thickness of the fish, and whether or not there are other ingredients involved. 

For example, if you preheat your oven to 450-degrees Fahrenheit (around 232-degrees Celsius), then the cooking time is anywhere between 12 to 15 minutes only. 

If you do not have a meat thermometer, you can eyeball the fish to check if it’s done. Just keep in mind that doing it this way could ruin the presentation of your dish as you will need to dig into the thickest part to check.

As salmon cooks, it turns a lighter shade of orangey-pink. If you have salmon steaks, it’s recommended to sear and cook them on one side for a couple of minutes (again, depending on the thickness), and then turn them over and complete the other side for the same amount of time.

Salmon steaks are easy to monitor because you can see how cooked the meat is on the side. The lighter shade of salmon should meet in the center after both sides are cooked, which is an indicator that your fish is almost done. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is it Okay to Eat Slightly Undercooked Salmon?

We do not recommend eating undercooked salmon, even if it’s just slightly. While it could be fine if the fish has been preserved the right way, the alternative is a high price to pay. You could contract an infection or get very sick. 

What Happens if You Eat Uncooked Salmon?

Uncooked, or raw salmon is fine if the proper steps have been taken to keep it fresh. Sashimi is raw salmon that is fine and enjoyable to eat. If the fish is not fresh, you could risk bacterial, viral and parasitic infection and food poisoning. 

How Do You Tell if Your Salmon is Undercooked?

Undercooked salmon is a translucent and darker shade of orangey-pink, while cooked salmon is a lighter shade of the same color and completely opaque. Fish meat will flake when cooked, so when you notice some separation on the sides and there is no longer any translucency, then your salmon is done. 

Is it Okay to Eat Salmon that’s a Little Pink?

Eating very slightly translucent salmon in the center is okay, but if you notice the middle of the fish is mostly a dark translucent orangey-pink shade, then we would suggest not consuming it. 

How Soon After Eating Undercooked Fish Will You Get Sick?

Once you eat undercooked fish, the symptoms will take effect just minutes after consumption, or it could take an hour or two. The illness could last until you get all of the affected fish out of your system, perhaps a day or so, or it could last for a few days. 

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