Can you eat saltwater fish raw?

Eating raw saltwater fish, also known as sashimi or ceviche, is a delicacy in many cuisines around the world. However, there are some important safety considerations to keep in mind when consuming raw seafood. In this article, we’ll explore the risks and benefits of eating raw saltwater fish, look at which species are best for raw consumption, and provide tips for sourcing and preparing raw seafood safely.

Can you eat all saltwater fish raw?

No, not all saltwater fish should be eaten raw. There are a few factors that determine whether a saltwater fish is safe and suitable for raw consumption:

  • Parasites – Most saltwater fish contain some level of parasites that are killed during cooking but can pose a health risk when eaten raw. Certain species are more prone to parasites.
  • Texture – Fish with delicate flesh and fewer bones, like tuna, tend to be better for sashimi. Lean fish hold together better than fattier options.
  • Flavor – Full-flavored fishes like salmon and mackerel are ideal for raw dishes. More subtly flavored species may taste bland when served raw.
  • Fat content – Fattier fish have a higher chance of harboring environmental pollutants that accumulate in their fat. Leaner fish are less risky.
  • Source – Raw seafood should be sourced from reputable suppliers and be freshly caught or frozen to high standards to minimize risks.

So while some saltwater species like tuna, halibut, and salmon are perfectly safe to enjoy raw when handled properly, other types of fish are better cooked first to avoid potential foodborne illnesses.

Which saltwater fish can you eat raw?

Here are some of the most popular and safe options for raw consumption:


Tuna is one of the most commonly eaten saltwater fish raw. Bluefin, yellowfin (ahi), bigeye, and albacore tuna are typical favorites for sushi and sashimi. The flesh is smooth, firm, and mild in flavor.


Wild salmon like king, sockeye, and coho have a supple, bright red meat that is delicious when sliced raw for dishes like crudo. Be sure to freeze salmon first to kill any parasites.


This white-fleshed flatfish has a clean, delicate flavor that comes through beautifully when served raw as sashimi. It’s low in mercury too.


Also known as yellowtail, hamachi offers buttery, rich meat that works well raw. Young hamachi is considered the best for sashimi.


Many species like red snapper have tender fillets that hold their shape well in thin slices. Snapper has a mild, slightly sweet taste raw.

Sea bass

Farmed sea bass like branzino and European sea bass are safe raw options with a refined, mildly briny flavor and silky texture.


Flounder is delicately flavored with an elegant texture that lends itself to raw applications. Fluke, halibut, and fluke are good choices.

Saltwater fish to avoid raw

On the other hand, these saltwater species are best avoided raw due to higher parasite risks or textural issues:

  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Mahi mahi
  • Bluefish
  • Amberjack
  • Cod
  • Grouper
  • Tilefish
  • Marlin
  • Sturgeon
  • Shark
  • Squid and octopus

Pregnant women should also avoid raw seafood due to risks of bacteria and parasites. People with liver disease or compromised immune systems may want to avoid raw fish as well.

Parasite risks in raw saltwater fish

One of the biggest concerns with raw seafood is the potential for parasitic infections. There are a few main types of parasites to watch out for:

  • Nematodes – Also called roundworms, these are the most common parasite found in saltwater fish. They can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea if consumed alive.
  • Cestodes – Also known as tapeworms, they infect the intestines if ingested via raw or undercooked fish.
  • Trematodes – Flukes are a type of trematode that can cause intestinal issues or allergic reactions in humans.
  • Anisakiasis – Caused by nematodes of the Anisakis type, they can burrow into the stomach lining if eaten alive.

Proper handling and preparation of fish can eliminate these risks, which we’ll discuss next.

Tips for sourcing safe raw seafood

To enjoy raw saltwater fish safely, follow these guidelines when buying fish:

  • Purchase from reputable sellers and fish markets that keep fresh seafood properly chilled.
  • Avoid purchasing fish directly off of fishing docks.
  • Make sure raw seafood smells ocean fresh, not fishy or ammonia-like.
  • The flesh should look glossy, firm, and resilient, not dull or mushy.
  • Eyes should be clear and bulging, not cloudy or sunken.
  • Only buy sashimi-grade fish which has been handled appropriately for raw consumption.
  • For catch-and-release sport fishing, do not eat the raw fillets due to contamination risks.

Ask your fishmonger when and where the seafood was caught to ensure freshness too. With high-quality starting material, you can feel comfortable serving your haul raw.

Proper storage for raw fish

Once you get your sashimi, sushi, ceviche or crudo ingredients home:

  • Keep raw seafood chilled at all times, below 40°F.
  • Store fish on ice or on a bed of ice packs, not just in the refrigerator.
  • Wrap fish in parchment paper then a layer of plastic wrap for the best moisture retention and air circulation.
  • Don’t let raw fish touch other foods in the fridge to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Use raw seafood within 1-2 days of purchasing for best quality.
  • Discard if any off odors, colors, or textures develop.

Proper icing is key – if the temperature rises above 40°F for over 2 hours, bacteria and parasites can start multiplying quickly in the untreated flesh.

Should you freeze raw fish before eating?

Freezing offers an extra layer of protection against parasites. The FDA recommends:

  • Freezing fish at -4°F (-20°C) or below for 7 days to kill parasites.
  • Or, freezing at -31°F (-35°C) or below until solid and storing for 15 hours to kill parasites.

Flash freezing at very low temperatures does not kill bacteria and viruses, however. After defrosting, handle the raw fish as you normally would and use within 24 hours.

Preparing raw fish safely at home

To enjoy raw seafood both safely and deliciously:

  • Wash hands, prep tools, cutting boards, dishes thoroughly before and after handling.
  • Separate raw proteins from other ingredients like vegetables and cooked items.
  • Use a sharp knife and slice fish thinly across the grain for the tenderest texture.
  • Discard any sections with bones, scales, or discolored bits.
  • Blanch oily fish briefly in boiling water if the rawness is overpowering.
  • Marinate fish in citrus juices, vinegars, herbs, and oils to impart flavor.
  • Refrigerate sashimi, poke, crudo immediately until ready to serve.

Exercising care at each step minimizes risks for foodborne illnesses. For an extra layer of protection, pregnant women or those with compromised immunity may choose to sear fish briefly before serving raw.

Is it safe to eat salmon raw from the grocery store?

Raw salmon from the grocery store can be enjoyed safely as long as a few guidelines are followed:

  • Ensure the seafood counter is clean, tidy and keeping fish chilled on ice.
  • Select sashimi or sushi grade salmon sold as ready-to-eat raw fish.
  • Look for colorful, firm salmon without any off odors or mushy texture.
  • Freeze for 7+ days at -4°F to kill any potential parasites.
  • Thaw in the refrigerator before preparing and eating.
  • Refrigerate for no more than 1-2 days after thawing before use.

With these best practices, the salmon you find at local fish markets and high-end grocery chains is typically fine to enjoy raw. Those with higher risk factors may want to cook salmon briefly first or avoid it altogether.

Can you eat cod raw?

Raw cod is not recommended. Cod has a higher likelihood of containing several types of parasitic worms, making it safer to cook first before eating. The parasites most commonly found in cod include:

  • Cod worm – a nematode found in muscles
  • Liver worm – a trematode found in livers
  • Lung worm – a nematode found in the lungs

Freezing and very low temperatures kill many of these parasites, but cod is still not generally considered a good candidate for sushi and sashimi. Choosing raw fish options like salmon and tuna is a safer bet.

Eating raw amberjack – yay or nay?

Raw amberjack is not recommended. Here’s why it’s best to cook this saltwater fish first:

  • High likelihood of parasites – Amberjack is prone to nematode and trematode worms which can infect humans if eaten alive.
  • High mercury levels – Amberjack and related jack fish contain higher mercury concentrations, which is safer to consume cooked.
  • Dense texture – The lean, dense meat of amberjack tends to be chewy in sashimi and poke.
  • Mild flavor – Cooking helps bring out more flavor in the subtle-tasting amberjack.

For these reasons, it’s smarter to enjoy amberjack cooked. Opt for raw tuna, salmon, or yellowtail if you’re seeking out fish for crudo or ceviche instead.

Can you eat grouper raw?

Grouper should not be eaten raw. This large reef fish has several high-risk factors that make raw consumption dangerous:

  • High mercury levels – Grouper contains elevated mercury concentrations, which is hazardous when eaten raw.
  • Parasite danger – Grouper often harbors nematode roundworms and other parasites.
  • Dense texture – The thick fillets have a meatier chew better suited for cooking.
  • Mild flavor – Grouper’s delicate flavor is enhanced by cooking.

Pregnant women are especially advised to only eat grouper that has been thoroughly cooked to avoid parasitic infections which can harm the fetus. Grouper poke bowls and other raw preparations are not considered safe to eat.

Is raw sea bass safe?

Farmed sea bass like European sea bass and branzino are safer options for eating raw. Wild sea bass is riskier. Here’s a full breakdown:

Farmed sea bass

Fresh farmed sea bass can make for tasty crudo, sashimi and ceviche. Some benefits:

  • Virtually parasite free since farmed in controlled habitats.
  • Mild, refined flavor.
  • Firm yet delicate texture.
  • Low mercury levels compared to wild sea bass.

Ensure farmed bass was raised responsibly before eating raw. Reputable sashimi-grade sea bass is fine to enjoy raw.

Wild sea bass

Wild caught sea bass harbor higher risks:

  • Moderate mercury levels
  • More likely to contain nematodes and other parasites

Wild sea bass should be cooked first to eliminate concerns over parasites. Pregnant women should avoid wild sea bass altogether.

Tips for eating raw saltwater fish safely

Here are some top tips for minimizing the risks when eating raw fish:

  1. Source sashimi or sushi-grade fish caught or farmed in highly regulated waters.
  2. Opt for low-mercury, low-parasite species like salmon, tuna, bream and bass.
  3. Freeze fish for 7+ days at -4°F before consuming raw to kill parasites.
  4. Avoid high-risk fish like amberjack, grouper, bluefish and anchovies raw.
  5. Purchase fresh seafood from reputable sellers and markets.
  6. Handle raw fish gently and serve immediately after thawing and preparing.
  7. Marinate in citrus, herbs, oils to help neutralize bacteria.
  8. Clean all prep surfaces thoroughly before and after.

With sound judgment, you can safely indulge in delicious raw seafood. Those at higher risk may want to take extra steps like briefly searing fish before serving raw.

The verdict on raw saltwater fish

Most saltwater fish should be cooked before eating due to common parasitic infections. However, certain species like tuna, salmon, and bream can be enjoyed raw when handled properly. The keys are:

  • Source fresh, sushi or sashimi-grade seafood.
  • Opt for fish lower in mercury and parasites.
  • Freeze fish for over 7 days before consuming raw.
  • Refrigerate at 40°F or less until ready to serve.
  • Clean prep areas and equipment thoroughly.
  • Enjoy raw fish immediately or within a day or two.

With sound sourcing and handling, raw preparations like crudo, sashimi and poke can be savored safely even with saltwater species. Those at higher risk may prefer to cook fish briefly first before eating.

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