Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Is Raw Salmon Bad For You?

Also Known As: Sashimi, Raw fish



Short answer

Consumption of raw salmon carries a risk of parasitic infection but could be safe when sourced and handled correctly. Freezing, as per FDA guidelines, kills parasites, making raw salmon suitable for dishes like sushi. Benefits include rich omega-3 content, important for heart, brain, and joint health. Mercury and PCB contamination are concerns; choosing low-contaminated, wild-caught salmon reduces risks. Whether farmed or wild, always select sushi-grade salmon, and follow safe handling and preparation to minimize health risks.



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Long answer

Parasitic Risks Associated with Consuming Raw Salmon

Raw salmon is a popular ingredient in many cuisines, particularly in dishes like sushi and sashimi. However, there are health concerns linked to the consumption of raw fish, including the risk of parasitic infections. Salmon can be host to parasitic organisms, like nematodes or flatworms, which could pose a risk to human health if consumed live.

Anisakis Simplex
The most well-known parasite found in salmon is Anisakis simplex, a type of nematode. Infection can lead to anisakiasis, characterized by abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and in severe cases, an allergic reaction. According to a study published in The Clinical Infectious Diseases Journal, most cases resolve without treatment, but sometimes endoscopic or surgical removal is necessary.

Diphyllobothrium latum
Another parasite associated with raw salmon is Diphyllobothrium latum, the broad fish tapeworm. This parasite can grow up to 30 feet in length in the human intestine. Symptoms of diphyllobothriasis include abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, and vitamin B12 deficiency leading to anemia. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides guidelines for prevention and notes that freezing fish can kill parasites and make it safer for consumption.

Preventive Measures

  • Freezing: The FDA recommends freezing at -4°F (-20°C) for a week, or at -31°F (-35°C) until solid and storing at -31°F (-35°C) for 15 hours, or at -31°F (-35°C) until solid and storing at -4°F (-20°C) for 24 hours.
  • Commercial Processing: Many countries enforce strict regulations on raw fish that include required freezing to kill parasites before it is served to consumers.
  • Inspection: Skilled chefs recognize and remove visible parasites from raw fish, although this doesn't guarantee complete safety.

Despite these risks, when appropriate measures are taken, the consumption of raw salmon can be safe. Nevertheless, awareness and proper food handling procedures are crucial to minimize the risk of parasitic infections. For individuals who are immunocompromised or pregnant, it is advisable to avoid raw salmon as they are more susceptible to infections and the consequences can be more serious.

For further insight, health authorities like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC provide detailed guidelines on the safe handling and preparation of raw fish to reduce the risk of parasitic infections. It is always recommended to source raw salmon from reputable suppliers who adhere to the highest safety standards.

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Salmon

When considering the health implications of raw salmon, one of the most prominent benefits is the high content of Omega-3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fats play an essential role in maintaining overall health, and they are something our bodies cannot produce on their own. Let's delve into the numerous advantages of Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are abundant in salmon.

Cardiovascular Health: A wealth of research, including a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that Omega-3s can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. They achieve this by lowering triglyceride levels, reducing blood pressure, and preventing the plaque that can harden arteries.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties: Chronic inflammation is associated with many diseases, such as arthritis, and Omega-3 fatty acids serve as anti-inflammatory agents. According to the European Journal of Pharmacology, these fats help combat inflammation by interacting with the body’s inflammatory pathways.

Cognitive Function and Mental Health: The high levels of DHA found in salmon Omega-3s contribute to brain health, which is vital for cognitive function. Studies, including those cited by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, have linked these fatty acids with a lower risk of cognitive decline. Additionally, they may play a role in alleviating symptoms of depression, as outlined by the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience.

Visual Health: DHA is also a primary structural component of the retina in the eye. Research published in the Archives of Ophthalmology indicates that Omega-3 intake can help prevent macular degeneration, which is a leading cause of vision impairment and blindness.

Joint Health: For those with joint issues, including Omega-3-rich salmon in the diet could offer relief. The Arthritis & Rheumatism journal reports that these fatty acids can help reduce stiffness and joint pain.

Understanding the role of Omega-3 fatty acids in human health emphasizes the value of including raw salmon in a balanced diet. While it's critical to manage the risks associated with raw fish consumption, such as potential exposure to parasites and bacteria, the potential health advantages of Omega-3s are considerable.

Contamination Concerns: Mercury and PCBs

Raw salmon, a staple in many diets around the world and celebrated for its flavor and nutritional profile, is not without its contamination risks. Two primary concerns when considering the safety of consuming raw salmon are mercury and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). These contaminants can pose significant health risks if ingested in large amounts or over extended periods. Understanding the presence and impact of these contaminants is crucial for making informed dietary choices.

Mercury is a heavy metal that can be found in various fish, including salmon. It accumulates in the aquatic food chain, meaning that larger and older fish tend to have higher concentrations. Consuming mercury-laden fish can lead to mercury poisoning, which is characterized by symptoms such as impaired motor skills, numbness, and cognitive dysfunction. Fortunately, salmon is generally considered to have lower mercury levels compared to other large predatory fish like swordfish or king mackerel. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, wild-caught salmon is classified as a "low mercury" fish. The FDA recommends eating 2-3 servings per week of low mercury fish, including salmon, as part of a healthy diet.

On the other hand, PCBs are industrial chemicals that were widely used in the past and are still present in our environment due to their persistent nature. These chemicals can be found in the fatty tissue of fish, including salmon, especially those from contaminated waters. The health implications of PCBs are significant, as they have been linked to cancer, immune system suppression, and reproductive issues. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set guidelines to minimize PCB exposure from fish consumption. Wild-caught salmon from pristine waters generally has lower PCB levels. It is worth noting that the levels of PCBs can vary depending on the source of the salmon.

Below are steps to reduce exposure to these contaminants when consuming raw salmon:

  • Choose wild-caught salmon from reputable sources: Wild-caught salmon typically has lower PCB and mercury levels than farmed fish, especially those from clean, less industrialized waters.
  • Consider portion size and frequency: Following recommendations on fish consumption can help minimize the risk of contaminant exposure. Moderation is key.
  • Trimming and cooking techniques: Removing the skin and surface fat of salmon before consuming can reduce PCB levels, but this is not applicable when consuming salmon raw. Cooking can also help reduce certain contaminants, though it’s important to note that this sub-section focuses on raw consumption.
  • Stay informed about advisories: Health advisories issued by local health departments or the EPA can provide specific guidance about fish caught in local waters, which may be more or less contaminated.

As ongoing research continues to evaluate the safety and pollution levels in marine life, it's essential for consumers to stay informed about the latest findings. The FDA and other organizations regularly update guidelines on fish consumption, which are based on current research and testing for contamination levels. Consulting these guidelines can help ensure one enjoys the benefits of raw salmon while minimizing potential health risks.

Sourcing Raw Salmon: Farmed vs. Wild-Caught

The debate between farmed and wild-caught salmon is a pivotal discussion in the seafood industry, impacting not only the flavor and texture of the fish but also its nutritional profile and potential health risks when consumed raw. Understanding the differences between these two sources is key to making an informed decision about the raw salmon you choose to include in your diet.

Wild-Caught Salmon: Wild salmon are typically caught in their natural habitats such as oceans, rivers, and lakes. Proponents of wild-caught salmon argue that it has several advantages, including:

  • A more varied diet, which often leads to a more complex flavor profile.
  • Higher levels of certain nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, as found in a 2016 study in the Journal of Nutritional Science.
  • Lower levels of contaminants compared to some farmed salmon, according to studies such as those by the Environmental Working Group.
  • Support for sustainable fishing practices which can help maintain fish populations and ecosystems.

However, wild-caught salmon may also have drawbacks, which include:

  • Higher cost due to fishing regulations and seasonal availability.
  • Potential for higher mercury levels, depending on the specific fishing areas.

Farmed Salmon: Farmed salmon, or aquaculture salmon, is bred and raised in controlled water systems. The farming approach has its own set of characteristics:

  • More consistent supply and typically lower prices than wild-caught salmon.
  • Controlled diet and environment, which can lead to fattier fish with a higher calorie content.
  • Concerns about antibiotics use and higher levels of pollutants such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), which can pose health risks when consumed in large quantities – referenced by the Food and Agriculture Organization.
  • Environmental concerns surrounding farming practices, like the spread of diseases to wild fish populations and the impact of fish waste on local ecosystems.

While the nutritional content of salmon may vary based on diet and environment, careful consideration of the source can help minimize potential health risks associated with the consumption of raw salmon. When considering farmed salmon, it's important to look for those certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) or similar organizations that ensure responsible farming practices.

In conclusion, both wild-caught and farmed salmon have their own benefits and drawbacks. The choice often comes down to personal preference, availability, price, and concerns about health and environmental impact. Whichever you choose, it's crucial to ensure that any raw salmon intended for consumption is labeled as "sushi-grade" or "sashimi-grade" and handled with the utmost care to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

Safe Handling and Preparation of Raw Salmon

When it comes to consuming raw salmon, safe handling and preparation are paramount to minimize the risk of foodborne illness and parasitic infections. It's essential to understand that not all salmon is suitable for raw consumption and that following specific guidelines can help ensure safety. Here, we delve into the critical steps and considerations for preparing raw salmon safely.

Selection of Salmon:

  • Always opt for sushi-grade or sashimi-grade salmon when planning to consume it raw. This designation means the fish has been frozen to a temperature and for a duration sufficient to kill parasites, in accordance with the FDA's guidelines.
  • Purchase salmon from reputable sources that adhere to strict food safety standards. Transparency about the source and handling of the fish is a good indicator of quality.

Handling and Storing:

  • Raw salmon should be stored at a temperature of 32°F (0°C) or below to prevent bacterial growth. Utilize a refrigerator thermometer to ensure your fridge is at the correct temperature.
  • Upon bringing salmon home, either prepare it immediately for consumption or store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator, ideally on ice, and consume it within 1-2 days.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards and knives for fish and other foods. After handling raw salmon, clean all surfaces and utensils thoroughly with hot, soapy water.


  • Before preparing raw salmon, wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds to reduce the risk of contaminating the fish.
  • Remove the skin of the salmon if it was not previously skinned, as the skin can harbor bacteria and parasites even if the flesh does not.
  • Check for and remove any small bones with tweezers designed for fish. Bones can be a choking hazard and may harbor bacteria.
  • Pre-cut salmon should be inspected for freshness. Signs of a fresh cut include a firm texture, a moist appearance without any dry spots, and a mild ocean-like scent.

While following these steps can significantly reduce the risk of foodborne illness, it is important to acknowledge that no raw food consumption is entirely free of risk. Immunocompromised individuals, pregnant women, young children, and the elderly should avoid raw salmon due to the increased danger foodborne pathogens pose to these populations.

For those who choose to eat raw salmon, adherence to these safe handling and preparation practices is essential. Incorporating these safety measures into your routine can help ensure that you enjoy the distinctive taste and nutritional benefits of raw salmon without compromising your health.

Additional precautions, such as consulting with a chef trained in proper sushi preparation or seeking advice from a food safety expert, can provide added assurance for those less experienced with preparing raw fish.

As we continue to investigate the aspects of raw salmon consumption, remember that knowledge about proper food safety is just as crucial as the quality of the fish itself. By educating ourselves on these practices, we can make informed decisions about incorporating raw salmon into our diets.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, certain individuals should avoid consuming raw salmon, including immunocompromised persons, pregnant women, young children, and the elderly. These groups are more susceptible to infections and the consequences of foodborne pathogens, which makes the consumption of raw fish risky for them.

Consuming raw salmon without first freezing it is not advised, as it may contain parasites that are harmful to your health. The FDA has specific freezing guidelines in place to kill parasites before consumption. Always opt for sushi or sashimi-grade salmon which has been frozen according to these standards.

Fresh raw salmon suitable for raw consumption should have a firm texture, a moist appearance without dry patches, and a mild, ocean-like scent. It should be sourced from a reputable supplier and labeled as 'sushi-grade' or 'sashimi-grade.' Signs of spoilage include a strong fishy odor, a slimy surface, and discoloration. When in doubt, it's best to avoid consuming the salmon raw.

Wild-caught salmon is generally considered safer to eat raw due to its lower levels of contaminants like PCBs, compared to some farmed salmon. However, both wild-caught and farmed salmon can be prepared safely for raw consumption if handled properly and frozen according to FDA guidelines to eliminate parasites. Always check the source and certifications of farmed salmon for responsible farming practices.

Ask a question about Raw Salmon and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • allergic reactions
  • diarrhea
  • numbness
  • cognitive dysfunction

Possible long-term side effects

  • mercury poisoning
  • pcb exposure
  • anemia from vitamin b12 deficiency
  • increased risk of cancer
  • immune system suppression
  • reproductive issues
  • cognitive decline

Ingredients to be aware of

  • mercury
  • pcbs
  • parasites like anisakis simplex and diphyllobothrium latum
  • antibiotics (in farmed salmon)


  • rich in omega-3 fatty acids
  • reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
  • anti-inflammatory properties
  • supports cognitive function and mental health
  • promotes visual health
  • relieves joint stiffness and pain

Healthier alternatives

  • cooked salmon
  • other low-mercury fish like sardines or trout
  • omega-3 supplements
  • frozen or canned salmon
  • asc-certified farmed salmon

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Daily Chef Salmon

  • Rich in Omega-3
  • High-quality protein
  • Heart-healthy choice
  • Conveniently packaged
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-22-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-22-2024

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