If you're a fan of foods like sushi, sashimi, and ceviche, you're well-acquainted with the idea of consuming raw fish. And while it's perfectly fine to eat those delicacies in moderation, there are side effects associated with ingesting raw foods of any kind, especially fish.
One of the biggest risks associated with eating raw fish is contracting a foodborne illness, which can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, among other symptoms. Major types of food poisoning that can result from eating raw or undercooked fish and shellfish include Salmonella and Vibrio vulnificus.
"Consuming raw or undercooked fish can increase risk for both parasitic and bacterial infections," says Tina Marinaccio MS, RD, CPT, who teaches food safety at Montclair State University and is a former food safety inspector. "These should be avoided if you are immunocompromised, or have a known gut condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease."
If you are immunocompromised and contract Salmonella or Vibrio vulnificus after eating raw fish, you are more likely to develop a severe infection, according to the CDC. Additionally, the CDC notes that if you are taking certain medications (such as those that are designed to reduce stomach acid) you are at an increased risk of contracting a Salmonella infection. (Related: 12 Food Safety Rules You're Definitely Breaking.)
As far as parasitic infections are concerned, these can occur after eating raw fish because parasites naturally occur in fish. "According to the CDC, anisakiasis (herring worm disease) is a parasitic disease caused by worms that attach to the wall of the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine," says Mary Wirtz, MS, RDN, CSSD, and a nutritional consultant at Mom Loves Best. "The best way to prevent this parasitic disease is by avoiding consuming raw or undercooked fish."
Per Wirtz, the Food and Drug Administration recommends cooking seafood adequately to an internal cooking temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. "Choosing the right fish is also imperative for reducing your risk of foodborne illness," she explains. "There are a host of factors to consider when choosing fish including, the smell/odor of the fish (it should not smell ammonia-like or have a strong fishy odor), the fish's eyes should be clear and shiny, live shellfish should have a tag or label with the processor's certification, live crabs and lobsters should have some leg movement, among many other factors."
According to Wirtz, the best way to avoid getting sick from raw fish is to do your research. "As a dietitian, I strongly recommend that clients familiarize themselves with appropriate fish specifications prior to purchasing, in addition to proper cooking and storage techniques," she says. "The FDA has a very thorough guide with additional recommendations. Consuming fish has many nutritional benefits for overall health and wellness, though I always encourage appropriate food safety measures first!" For more on that, read Surprising Side Effects of Eating Fish, According to Science.
For more healthy eating news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!