Can you eat imitation crab sushi while pregnant?

Pregnancy comes with a lot of dos and don’ts when it comes to food. Some foods need to be avoided completely, while others should only be consumed in moderation. Sushi is one such food that tends to spark debate. While most experts agree that raw fish should be avoided during pregnancy, what about imitation crab sushi rolls made with surimi? Surimi is a paste made from pollock or other whitefish that has been minced and reshaped to resemble crab meat. Imitation crab is cooked, so does that make it safe to eat when you’re expecting? Keep reading to learn more.

Imitation Crab Ingredients

Imitation crab is made from surimi, which contains the following ingredients:

  • Fish (usually Alaskan pollock)
  • Starch
  • Egg white
  • Coloring
  • Sodium
  • Sugar
  • MSG

The fish is cooked during processing to kill any bacteria or parasites. The other ingredients help bind the paste together and replicate the flavor, color, and texture of real crab meat.

Benefits of Imitation Crab

Here are some of the benefits of choosing imitation crab sushi:

  • It’s lower in mercury than real crab because it’s made from whitefish like pollock.
  • The fish is fully cooked during processing, which kills any harmful bacteria.
  • It’s a affordable, convenient alternative to real crab.
  • It provides protein, vitamins, and minerals like calcium.

For those watching their budgets or who follow a pescatarian diet, imitation crab can be a tasty solution for enjoying sushi without breaking the bank or consuming real meat.

Potential Risks

However, there are some potential downsides to keep in mind:

  • It’s highly processed and contains additives like MSG, sugar, and sodium.
  • The ingredients and nutritional value can vary between brands.
  • There’s a small risk of contamination with listeria, mercury, or other toxins during processing and manufacturing.
  • Some people may have allergic reactions to surimi.

Pregnant women already have a higher risk of foodborne illness, like listeria, which can cause miscarriage or stillbirth. That’s why it’s especially important to take extra precautions with imitation crab.

Nutrition Info

The nutrition information for 3 ounces of imitation crab meat is as follows:

  • Calories: 82
  • Protein: 10 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Carbs: 6 grams
  • Sodium: 330 milligrams

It’s low in calories but high in sodium. Expect about 16-20 grams of protein per sushi roll made with imitation crab. It lacks some nutrients, like vitamin D, found in real crab but provides small amounts of calcium and magnesium. Check the ingredient label for added sugars, fillers, and preservatives.

Mercury Levels

Mercury can harm a developing baby’s brain and nervous system. Fish like tuna, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel tend to be highest in mercury.

Imitation crab is made from smaller, short-lived fish like pollock that are naturally lower in mercury. One study tested mercury levels in surimi-based products from various brands. Here are the mercury levels found:

Sample Total Mercury (ppb)
Imitation crab 1 10.3
Imitation crab 2 12.8
Imitation crab 3 6.4
Average 9.8

For reference, canned light tuna averages around 68 ppb. The EPA’s safe limit for mercury in seafood is 300 ppb. Surimi products fall well below that limit at under 15 ppb.

Listeria Risk

Listeria bacteria can contaminate refrigerated, ready-to-eat seafood products like smoked salmon and imitation crab. Listeria causes a disease called listeriosis with symptoms like fever, muscle aches, and vomiting. It’s rare but especially concerning in pregnancy because it can lead to premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth, or illness/death in newborns.

However, the overall risk is low. A study examining foodborne illness outbreaks found:

  • 1,608 outbreaks of listeria from 1998-2008
  • Only 3 outbreaks were linked to imitation crab
  • These caused 10 cases of listeriosis but no deaths

Proper cooking destroys listeria, but imitation crab is already cooked during processing. Avoiding cross-contamination and consuming the product while fresh reduces risk.

Tips for Safe Consumption

Here are some tips for safely eating imitation crab sushi during pregnancy:

  • Purchase only fresh sushi from reputable restaurants or grocery stores.
  • Avoid sushi left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
  • Check that there are no signs of spoilage like bad odors or mold.
  • Follow proper storage times – consume refrigerated sushi within 2 days.
  • Heat up or cook sushi to 165°F to kill any bacteria, if concerned.
  • Avoid higher mercury fish like tuna as a sushi topping.
  • Limit sushi to no more than 2-3 rolls per week as part of a balanced diet.

Taking these simple precautions can help reduce the risks.

Should You Avoid It Completely?

Many experts say completely avoiding imitation crab and sushi is unnecessary. They encourage moderation and making informed choices about sources and ingredients.

The risks associated with imitation crab sushi are very low. Listeria, mercury exposure, and allergic reactions are rare. Imitation crab provides important nutrients you and your baby need like protein, vitamins, and minerals. As part of an overall healthy pregnancy diet, enjoying sushi in moderation is considered safe by most sources.

However, avoid sushi with raw fish, which pose higher risks for foodborne illnesses like salmonella and parasites. Stay on the safe side by choosing vegetarian rolls or ones with shrimp, imitation crab, avocado, cucumbers or cooked eel.

Check with your doctor about your diet and any food restrictions during pregnancy. Ultimately, the decision comes down to your comfort level with the small risks versus the benefits of eating imitation crab sushi.

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, eating imitation crab sushi while pregnant is safe when these guidelines are followed:

  • The sushi is freshly made with properly handled ingredients
  • You avoid raw fish toppings
  • It’s consumed right after ordering or refrigerated promptly
  • Intake is limited to 2-3 rolls per week as part of a healthy diet

The many benefits seem to outweigh the minor risks. Imitation crab adds enjoyable variety to your diet and provides nutrients for you and your developing baby. By being an informed consumer and following basic food safety practices, you can feel comfortable satisfying your sushi craving during pregnancy!


Pregnancy requires giving up some favorite foods but imitation crab sushi doesn’t have to be one of them. Surimi-based rolls fall within the safety guidelines for mercury and bacteria like listeria when consumed in moderation. Avoid raw fish and any spoiled sushi. Check with your doctor about your overall diet plan and any restrictions. With some mindful choices, you can still enjoy the flavors of sushi without endangering your health or your baby’s!

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