Home Nutrition How to Make Sure the Salmon You Eat Is Safe

How to Make Sure the Salmon You Eat Is Safe

Written by Jenoye Campbell, LPN

If you are a seafood eater, salmon must be nothing new for you and if you don’t eat seafood often, it still must not be an alien term because we know how popular salmon fish is.

Salmon is well-known for its taste and because of its uncountable nutritious advantages.

People suffering from heart-related diseases, those with diminished brain activity, the ones having inflammatory diseases, and those trying to shed some extra pounds off their body, are advised to eat salmon.

Can you imagine how versatile and beneficial it must be?

There is a long list of dishes made with salmon that are popular across different parts of the world. For instance, the Japanese eat sushi-grade Salmon, which includes thin slices of raw salmon.

In addition, gravlax is a traditional dish in Nordic countries made of raw salmon cured with salt, sugar, and dill.

One common practice that has seemed to spread globally is eating raw fish in sushi and of course, salmon is on that list of raw fish.

So, those who are new to the world of sushi often wonder if it is safe to eat raw fish.

In this article, we explore exactly that. Can we eat salmon raw or should we be wary of that practice?

The Health Benefits of Salmon

If you search the internet for what a healthy diet includes, you will notice that seafood tops many of the lists, articles, charts, or pyramids you come across.

This is because seafood is the finest source of lean proteins that are crucial for normal growth among children and they can keep adults away from major diseases. 

As it relates to salmon, it has many health benefits to offer. Whether wild salmon or farmed salmon, here are some health benefits you can derive from eating this fish:

1) Omega-3 fatty acids

Salmon fish is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have numerous health benefits including;

  • enhanced brain function
  • reduced cardiovascular problems
  • decreased risk of hypertension and stroke
  • supports anti-inflammatory processes
  • enhanced cell function
  • better bone and joint protection
  • happier mood 

2) Protein

As mentioned above, like many other seafood products, salmon is a rich source of lean protein, as well.

It helps to build your bones, muscles, and cartilage, maintaining your muscle mass during weight loss.

Also, these proteins keep your metabolic rate healthy and ensure adequate bone density.

3) Antioxidants

Have you ever noticed that almost all varieties of salmon come in a pinkish-orange color?

Well, that is because of the presence of Astaxanthin. It is an antioxidant that works to prevent various neurodegenerative (incurable and debilitating conditions that result in progressive degeneration and or death of nerve cells), cardiovascular, and anti-inflammatory diseases.

It also protects your cells against oxidative damage keeping unnecessary inflammation at bay.  

4) Vitamins and minerals

Salmon is a rich source of vitamins, including B12, A, and minerals like selenium, phosphorous, thiamin, niacin, etc. 

They are all very crucial for the healthy and proper functioning of your body.

For example, selenium is good for normal thyroid development and function and niacin prevents narrowing of the arteries and lowers your cholesterol and triglycerides.

Is It Safe to Eat Raw Salmon?

Eating raw fish, such as salmon, has become commonplace in so many countries. As such, people eat salmon raw primarily in the form of sushi.

However, people also consume salmon fillets as part of their cooked meals.

Cooked salmon comes in a lot of dishes and they each have a unique taste.

But as we earlier established, there is another tastier and easier way that some people enjoy their salmon, and that is eating it raw.

That’s right, in fact, eating raw seafood, such as sushi-grade salmon, is a delicacy for many. They eat raw fish cured with spices!

However, eating raw meats and seafood is not encouraged because of their propensity to cause foodborne illnesses.

As such, there are certain safety precautions that must be ensured when buying raw fish or before you eat raw salmon.

Ensure the Salmon is 100% Fresh

Whenever you go to the fish market, make sure you pick a fresh piece.

For that, you must be aware of the common signs of spoilage and if you notice any one of them, don’t purchase that piece of fish or try finding another fish market.

The fish markets closer to the sea are best since they are more likely serving fresh seafood.

1) Assess its appearance

First of all, look at the appearance of the raw fish.

If it looks shiny giving off the pinkish-orange or red shade, it’s fresh fish.

However, if it has a dull-looking gray skin and the white lines aren’t clear, it is a spoiled piece. In extreme cases, dark spots and molds would be visible too.

2) Check its smell

After the appearance, smell tells it all. In other foods, a fishy smell indicates rancidity and spoilage.

However, if you are sniffing a piece of fresh sushi-grade salmon, a fishy odor is a sign of freshness.

A rotten fish may smell like ammonia.

Note that the fishy smell of the salmon must be a light one and not that strong to reek of the sea.

If the fish smells too fishy and unnatural, it is better to avoid it.

3) Feel it

If you are confused about the fish smell, touch its flesh.

The freshest fish must bounce upon your touch and if it doesn’t, that’s not fresh.

Fragile flesh and fishy smell are the biggest signs that the salmon has gone bad.

If upon touching the piece of salmon, the flesh feels milky, slimy, and is falling apart, its time has certainly passed.       

Store it Properly

Now that you’ve bought fresh fish, we recommend you use it as soon as possible.

However, if you’ve bought it for later use then store it properly to keep it as fresh as possible.

Many of the risks that come with eating raw salmon are due to poor storage. 

The key to effective storage is the right temperature.

If you are to store a piece of salmon for use in two days or less, you can keep it in a refrigerator.

Make sure the temperature is 4 degrees or below. Remember that the maximum time you can store it in the refrigerator is 24-48 hours.

In case you need to keep it longer, like for months, we recommend you use vacuum-sealed freezer bags, as they keep frozen seafood safely stored for prolonged periods.

A freezer bag maintains super cold temperatures.

Keep other items, like raw beef in the freezer away from the raw fish as it reduces the chances of cross-contamination.

The bacteria and other microbes in one food might enter the salmon and spoil it.

Therefore to promote food safety, it is always better to use sealed bags and keep them at a distance from other goodies and properly frozen.

Of note, microbes like bacteria and fungi don’t grow in extreme temperatures. So, the colder the temperature is, the safer your salmon will be.      

Prepare Well Before Consuming Raw

Now that it’s the time to treat your taste buds with yummy salmon dishes, you must be aware of the following preparation tips.

Step 1:

Take out your salmon from the fridge and rinse it well with clean water.

There is still a debate about washing animal proteins because the USDA says rinsing animal proteins with water is likely to cross-contaminate them.

But many others say washing is good because it removes the loose scales and other debris.

In such a case, cold water is a safer approach to washing, as warm water is likely to augment microbial growth.

Step 2:

It is always better to buy the whole salmon and fillet it at home. It might seem like a challenge but is way simple.

Filleting is the process of cutting the salmon into fillets serving as an individual portion i.e. easier to store and cook.

All you need is a clean filleting knife and a cutting board. Start by making a clean cut from the end of the head then cut through the entire belly flap and finally cut the tail end.

Keep the knife tilted and repeat the process on the other side. It will give you thinly sliced fish fillets for easy serving.

Step 3:

Double-check the fish for the presence of any worms or parasites before buying raw salmon.

This step is crucial when you buy readymade sashimi-grade fillets or fresh salmon steaks.

Also, your cooking space must be completely sanitized and everything that comes in touch with the meat must be cleaned.

It is to prevent cross-contamination at max.  

If you are hundred percent sure that your salmon is good to eat, go on with exciting flavor combos to make the dish you want to eat.

There is a long list of delicious dishes made of raw fish.

All you need to do is dress it up accordingly.

The most common spices used in most of the dressings include salt, pepper, garlic powder, mustard, oregano, dill, lemon zest, etc.

So, go grab all your required ingredients if you mean to enjoy your tasty, raw salmon! 

What Does the FDA Say?

According to the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it’s always best to cook seafood thoroughly in order to best minimize the risk of foodborne illness.

Nevertheless, if someone decides to serve or eat raw fish, the agency advises that they observe this one rule of thumb, which is to eat fish that has been previously frozen.

Some species of fish can contain parasites, and freezing will kill any parasites that may be present.

However, the experts say raw consumption of fish is likely to cause food poisoning due to bacterial contamination if it doesn’t undergo guided processing.

The FDA has laid down a specific set of guidelines in this regard.

Similarly, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that people can eat raw salmon and other fish but have to be super careful with its storage and preparation.

Most of the safety and cooking tips and tricks that these agencies recommend have been mentioned above.

In case of further reassurance, you can visit the official websites of both agencies.     

Can You Eat Undercooked Salmon?

The simple answer to that is “No, you can’t.”

Many people think that if raw fish can be eaten safely, so can undercooked salmon. But this is never the case.

Raw and undercooked salmon are way different.

An undercooked salmon may be home to many infectious species. Here is what can happen if you eat undercooked salmon.

1) You may catch parasites

Raw or undercooked fish may contain parasites that cause several infections.

By properly cooking salmon, it increases the fish’s internal temperature, thus killing parasites that are inside it.

A well-cooked fish has all its microbes destroyed due to heat but inadequate cooking will not kill parasites and may cause them to flourish instead.

This is often seen when people eat fish at restaurants. The chefs may not cook the fish well due to hurried serving, which can result in parasitic infections.

According to the FDA, both undercooked and mishandled raw salmon may include worm-like parasites called helminths.

They are very similar to tapeworms and roundworms and are common in finfish like salmon.

The scientific name for helminths is Diphyllobothrium nihokaiense and it lives in a human’s small intestine growing up to 12 meters long.

The infection caused by helminths causes sudden weight loss, diarrhea, anemia, and abdominal pain. However, some people may never experience any of such symptoms.    

The FDA advises cooking salmon at 145 degrees Fahrenheit because it kills maximum parasites.

2) Bacteria might cause food poisoning

Fresh and frozen seafood, undercooked or poorly stored raw wild-caught salmon, or farmed salmon all contain bacteria that may cause food poisoning.

The two major types of such bacteria include Vibrio vulnificus and Salmonella.

The illness caused by them may range from mild to serious.

Other types of bacteria that come with undercooked fish are Shigella, Clostridium Botulinum, and E.coli.      

3) You may intake toxic chemicals

Salmon that is eaten raw or undercooked may contain environmental contaminants, and this is possible even with even farmed fish.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and heavy metals may be present in trace concentrations in both farmed and wild salmon.

Pesticides, heavy industry chemicals, and flame retardants are among the harmful substances that accumulate in the food chain after being stored in the fat deposits of animals like fish.

POPs have been associated with a higher risk of cancer, birth abnormalities, and endocrine, immunological, and reproductive issues in humans.

Researchers tested ten different types of fish from a Spanish market and discovered that salmon had the most significant levels of a certain kind of flame retardant.

Their discovered levels, however, were far within safe limits.

These contaminated fish then make their way to sushi restaurants and fish markets, then into your stomachs.

However, many POPs are reduced when you cook salmon well.

Also, cooked salmon has 26 percent lower levels of POPs than raw salmon, according to one research.

Who Should Not Eat Raw Salmon?

People who are at a higher risk of acquiring a serious foodborne infection must avoid raw consumption of salmon.

Pregnant women, children, and older persons, as well as anyone with a weakened immune system, such as those suffering from cancer, liver disease, HIV/AIDS, organ transplants, or diabetes, should avoid raw salmon.

Foodborne illnesses can cause severe symptoms, hospitalization, or even death in persons with weakened immune systems.

3 Best Dishes Made of Raw Salmon

Raw salmon can be made into a variety of dishes. Four of the most popular raw fish dishes are listed below.

1) Poke

It is a raw fish salad commonly served in Hawaiian cuisine. It is usually made with tuna species but works well with salmon also.

Tortilla chips and rice crackers are great options to go with it.

What you need is wild salmon; skinned off with removed bones, shallot, green onions, soy sauce, sesame oil and seeds, and finally chili garlic sauce.

Get your thin wild salmon fillets in a bowl and mix them with all the ingredients. For exact quantities, you can check videos and recipes on the internet.

Add salt as per your taste and serve it. For added taste, pair it with rice crackers or tortilla chips.

For toppings use crushed sesame seeds. It is best to use sushi-grade fish.   

2) Ceviche

It is a super juicy and spicy raw fish dish popular among Latin Americans.

It includes raw salmon cured in citrus juices like lemon & lime and spiced with chilies and sauces. For the best taste, use Alaska’s wild salmon.

The ingredients include frozen fish fillet with skin and bones removed.

Thaw it for some time, add lime juice, lime zest, chopped shallot, salt, vinegar, minced jalapeno, sesame seeds, and chili powder.

Now take some small radishes,

Hass avocado, and medium-ripe tomatoes and dice them evenly.

Add them to the mixture prepared above and enjoy! For better understanding check out the videos on YouTube.

3) Sushi

Sushi is undoubtedly the most popular raw fish dish in the world.

Making sushi may be tiresome to prepare at home but the final taste would be worth the effort.

The ingredients required include seaweed paper, sushi rice, thin salmon fillets, scallions, sesame seeds, spicy mayo, gochujang, fish sauce, and if you want then some avocados, carrots, or cucumbers.

Lay the piece of paper on the sushi mat and spread rice over it in a thin layer, place the salmon fillets over the 1/3 bottom of the sheet, top it with scallions and any add-ons.

Roll it up tight and cut it into the desired size. Finally, enjoy your rice-embedded fish with spicy mayo!          

4) Smoked Salmon

Contrary to what is often believed, smoked salmon is not actually cooked but rather cured using smoke.

Similar to its recommendations in consuming other types of raw salmon, the USDA deems it safe to eat smoked salmon if it is kept refrigerated and vacuum-sealed. 

You can buy this in a grocery store; however, it can always be made at home, you just need time and patience.

To make smoked salmon at home, place your salmon slab or salmon fillets on the skin side down in a baking pan that has ample space to accommodate the salmon.

The pan should be coated with cooking spray or butter.

Next, you will need to sprinkle it with salt, pepper, and brown sugar.

These are the typical seasonings but if you choose to add something more, that’s fine.

You will also need to drizzle a bit of liquid smoke over the salmon.

You can find liquid smoke in The condiments area of the supermarket. Cover to marinate in the refrigerator for 5 to 8 hours.

Once the time has passed, you will then remove the excess liquid from the pan by draining the salmon.

At this point, you can throw out the surplus liquid.

Then comes oven time.

Place the baking tin into the oven, ensure you leave it uncovered, and bake at 350° for about 40 minutes or until you can use a fork and easily flake the salmon.

Lastly, allow the salmon to cool then you will cover and refrigerate overnight or at least for 8 hours then serve.   

Conclusion

Salmon is a delicious delicacy for many, whether cooked or eaten raw.

The preparation and cooking process is essential and can determine if you get sick from eating fish or not.

So, by now you should be able to decide whether or not it is safe for you to eat this fish raw.

Bear in mind that certain individuals are more susceptible than others.

However, it is best that everyone follows the set guidelines as best as possible.

If you still have doubts then try enjoying salmon cooked first then maybe you will develop the courage to try it raw.

As the raw fish lovers say, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!

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