Eating raw or undercooked fish can increase your risk of foodborne illness. However, the answer to whether you can eat slightly undercooked salmon depends on a few key factors.
Is it safe to eat undercooked salmon?
Salmon, like other fish, can contain bacteria and parasites that are killed by cooking the fish to a proper internal temperature. Undercooking salmon can increase the risk that these pathogens survive and cause food poisoning.
The main risks from undercooked salmon include:
- Salmonella – A bacteria that can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.
- Listeria monocytogenes – Can lead to an illness called listeriosis with symptoms like fever, muscle aches, and neurological problems.
- Anisakiasis – Caused by parasitic worms that can burrow into the stomach lining or intestines.
These risks are most concerning in certain groups of people who are more vulnerable to foodborne illnesses. This includes pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.
Is undercooked salmon always dangerous?
While there are risks, eating salmon that is slightly undercooked is not guaranteed to make you sick in every case. The chances of getting food poisoning depend on a few factors:
- How undercooked the salmon is – The more undercooked, the greater the risks.
- If the salmon was previously frozen – Freezing can kill parasites like anisakiasis.
- If farmed vs wild – Farmed salmon is treated to control parasites and may be safer.
- Your own health – Those most vulnerable to illness face higher risks.
So, while it’s possible to eat slightly undercooked salmon without getting sick, it’s not recommended from a food safety standpoint.
What temperature should salmon be cooked to?
To kill bacteria and parasites, seafood like salmon should reach an internal temperature of at least 145°F (63°C). At this temperature, salmon is no longer translucent and turns opaque throughout.
Here are some safe cooking guidelines for salmon:
- Grilled or pan-seared: Cook until it flakes easily with a fork, registering at least 145°F internally.
- Baked: Bake until opaque and registers 145°F+ on a food thermometer.
- Poached: Cook until opaque and flakes easily, about 130-140°F internally.
- Sushi: Should be frozen first to kill parasites, and prepared from high-quality sushi-grade fish.
Tips for safely enjoying salmon
If you want to enjoy salmon while minimizing the risks of foodborne illness:
- Purchase high-quality, fresh salmon from a reputable seller.
- Store raw salmon properly at under 40°F until ready to cook.
- Thaw frozen salmon safely in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.
- Marinate raw salmon in the refrigerator too.
- Use a food thermometer to check internal temperature when cooking.
- Heat leftovers to 165°F before eating.
Who should not eat undercooked salmon?
The CDC advises that certain groups of people should avoid undercooked or raw salmon and other fish. This includes:
- Pregnant women – can pass illnesses to the fetus.
- Young children under 5 years old.
- Older adults with weaker immune systems.
- Anyone with a chronic condition like liver disease, diabetes, cancer, or HIV/AIDS.
- Anyone getting chemotherapy or immunosuppressant drugs.
For those vulnerable groups, salmon should be avoided altogether or cooked until well-done to reduce risks.
What are symptoms of salmonella and food poisoning?
If you do get sick from eating undercooked salmon, symptoms of foodborne illnesses usually show up within 12-72 hours after exposure.
Salmonella infection can cause:
- Fever and chills
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Lasts 4-7 days typically
Anisakiasis parasitic infection can cause:
- Abdominal pain
- Intestinal bleeding
- Digestive issues
Listeriosis can lead to symptoms like:
- Muscle aches
- Stiff neck
- Loss of balance
See a doctor right away if you have severe or concerning symptoms after eating undercooked salmon. Food poisoning usually resolves on its own, but dehydration and secondary infections can occur. At-risk groups may need antibiotics or additional treatment.
How long does salmonella last?
A salmonella infection usually lasts around 4 to 7 days. Most healthy people recover without treatment as their immune system fights it off. However, symptoms can linger for some. It may take:
- 1-2 weeks for appetite and bowel habits to return to normal.
- 1-3 months for joint pain or fatigue to fully resolve in severe cases.
- Up to 6 months for abdominal issues to disappear for those with irritable bowel syndrome.
See your doctor if salmonella symptoms don’t improve after a week or if you have an underlying condition. Testing can confirm the diagnosis, and medications may help relieve symptoms.
What helps salmonella go away?
To help salmonella resolve and ease symptoms at home:
- Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Get lots of rest.
- Eat small, bland foods that are gentle on the stomach.
- Take over-the-counter meds like Imodium for diarrhea.
- Avoid antibiotics unless prescribed, as they may prolong infection.
Can salmonella go away without antibiotics?
Yes, most cases of salmonella infection go away without antibiotics. The illness is typically self-limiting, meaning the immune system can fight it off on its own.
Antibiotics are only recommended in certain cases, including:
- Infants under 3 months old with salmonella.
- Adults over 50 years old or with weakened immune systems.
- Cases where the infection spreads from the intestines to the bloodstream.
- Instances where dehydration, malnutrition, or other complications arise.
- Salmonella that persists longer than 1 week.
Using antibiotics when not needed may actually delay recovery in otherwise healthy individuals. Always consult with your doctor regarding appropriate treatment.
How do you know if salmonella is gone?
Signs that a salmonella infection has resolved include:
- Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, cramps diminish and stop.
- Fever goes away.
- Appetite returns to normal.
- Bowel movements return to normal consistency.
- Fatigue and headaches go away.
- No more abdominal tenderness.
It can sometimes take a week or longer for digestive symptoms to fully disappear after other symptoms end. Check with your doctor if any severe symptoms last more than 2-3 days.
Repeat testing isn’t typically needed unless symptoms persist. Previously cleared salmonella can be shed in stool months later but usually isn’t infectious.
Can you get salmonella twice?
Yes, it’s possible to develop salmonella more than once. Salmonella immunity after an infection varies between the different salmonella strains and can decrease over time. Reinfection is more likely to happen if:
- Your immunity has waned since a prior infection.
- You’re exposed to a different salmonella serotype than before.
- Your infection was mild or didn’t cause symptoms the first time.
- You have a weakened immune system.
To reduce your risk of reinfection, practice good food safety habits like avoiding raw meats, unpasteurized dairy, and contaminated items. Properly wash hands and surfaces, and don’t prepare food when ill.
What are the chances of getting sick from slightly undercooked salmon?
It’s hard to pin down the exact odds. In general, the risk of getting sick from undercooked salmon depends on:
- How much salmon was consumed.
- How undercooked the salmon was.
- If the salmon contained any pathogens.
- Your personal susceptibility.
The bacteria and parasites most concerning in raw/undercooked fish are not present in all fish. But when present, illness can occur after ingesting just a few organisms. Vulnerable groups face higher odds of getting sick.
While a healthy person may eat slightly undercooked salmon and not get sick frequently, it’s safest to just avoid undercooked salmon altogether. The rewards of eating undercooked fish rarely outweigh the risks.
How many bacteria does it take to get sick from salmonella?
Only a small dose of salmonella bacteria is needed to make someone sick. The estimated infectious dose is:
- 100-200 cells – Considered enough to cause symptoms in vulnerable people.
- Around 1,000-10,000 cells – Can make a healthy adult sick in many cases.
- Over 1 million cells – More likely to infect most healthy adults and cause severe illness.
Factors like your age, health, and stomach acid levels affect how easily salmonella can infect you. Children, older adults, and those with compromised immunity have higher susceptibility.
Can you see salmonella bacteria?
No, you cannot see individual salmonella bacteria with the naked eye. The bacteria are microscopic single-celled organisms. Under a microscope, they appear rod-shaped.
You also cannot detect salmonella in fish by look, taste, or smell. Contaminated fish usually appears, smells, and tastes normal.
How to kill bacteria on salmon
To eliminate bacteria like salmonella on salmon:
- Cook to safe internal temperature. Cook until it reaches 145°F internally.
- Use a sanitizing solution. Submerge in mix of 1 Tbsp chlorine bleach per gallon of water for 15 minutes.
- Boil. Boiling salmon for at least 3-5 minutes kills bacteria.
- Microwave. Microwave 6-8 minutes until fish is opaque and flakes.
- Marinate in vinegar. Marinating raw salmon in vinegar solution for over 30 minutes reduces bacteria.
- Use lemon juice. Moisture and acid in lemon juice helps destroy bacteria.
Storing at cold temperatures and cleaning surfaces can also control bacterial growth alongside cooking. Freezing or smoking salmon may reduce but doesn’t eliminate all risk.
Can you eat salmon after 5 days?
Fresh raw salmon can be kept in the refrigerator for use for up to 3 to 5 days from the purchased date. After that time period, quality and freshness start to diminish even if the salmon is still safe to eat.
Once cooked, salmon leftovers should be eaten or frozen within:
- 3-4 days for optimal quality.
- 5-7 days maximum according to USDA guidelines.
Discard cooked salmon that’s been refrigerated for over 7 days. Signs it may be spoiled include an off smell, slimy texture, or discolored flesh.
If unsure whether refrigerated salmon is still fresh, remember, “When in doubt, throw it out.” Don’t risk getting sick from eating spoiled fish.
Can you eat expired smoked salmon?
Smoked salmon can be safely eaten past its “best by” or “sell by” date if it has been continuously refrigerated and there are no signs of spoilage. Look for:
- Off odors.
- Slimy, sticky, or tacky consistency.
- Mold growth.
- Discolored or dried out patches.
If the smoked salmon still smells, looks, and tastes normal, it should be fine. But no more than 1-2 weeks past its date. If unsure, don’t risk getting sick.
Food safety guidelines for salmon
Follow these food safety practices when handling and preparing salmon:
- Purchase fresh, sushi-grade fish from reputable sellers.
- Check “best by” dates and use within 1-2 days.
- Keep raw salmon very cold at under 40°F until ready to cook.
- Thaw frozen fish safely in the refrigerator, not at room temp.
- Marinate raw salmon in the refrigerator.
- Wash hands, prep tools, surfaces with soap before and after.
- Cook to minimum internal temperature of 145°F.
- Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours and use within 3-4 days.
- When reheating, cook to 165°F.
Eating raw or undercooked salmon does come with an increased risk of foodborne illnesses like salmonella. However, slightly undercooked salmon is unlikely to make you sick every time, especially if handled properly.
To best minimize risks, salmon should be cooked to the recommended safe internal temperature of 145°F. Proper handling, preparation, and storage are also key to reducing bacteria. While not recommended, the chances of illness from slightly undercooked salmon also depend on the individual fish and person consuming it.
Certain vulnerable groups like the very young, elderly, pregnant women, or immunocompromised should avoid undercooked salmon altogether to limit risks. If symptoms do occur after eating undercooked salmon, stay hydrated and consult a doctor, especially if lasting over 1 week.