Can you get sick from eating snapping turtle?

Quick Answer

Eating improperly handled or undercooked snapping turtle meat can potentially make you sick. Snapping turtles can harbor bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli that can cause foodborne illness if the meat is not properly cleaned, stored, and cooked. Proper handling and thorough cooking to an internal temperature of 165°F kills dangerous bacteria and makes snapping turtle safe to eat.

Can you get sick from eating turtle?

Yes, you can potentially get sick from eating turtle meat, including snapping turtle, if it is contaminated with bacteria or other pathogens and is not stored, prepared, and cooked properly. Turtles and other reptiles naturally harbor common disease-causing bacteria like Salmonella in their intestinal tracts and on their skin and shells.

Some of the illnesses you can get from contaminated or undercooked turtle meat include:

– Salmonellosis – Caused by Salmonella bacteria and leads to diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps.

– E. coli infection – Caused by E. coli bacteria and leads to severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.

– Campylobacteriosis – Caused by Campylobacter bacteria and leads to diarrhea, cramping, fever, and nausea.

– Vibriosis – Caused by Vibrio bacteria from marine turtles and leads to watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, fever, and chills.

– Yersiniosis – Caused by Yersinia bacteria and leads to fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

– Chlamydiosis – Caused by Chlamydia bacteria and leads to severe flu-like symptoms, diarrhea, and pneumonia.

So yes, if turtle meat is not handled properly during harvesting, processing, storage, preparation, and cooking, there is a risk of foodborne illness.

Why can snapping turtles make you sick?

There are a few reasons why eating improperly handled or cooked snapping turtle can make you sick:

Bacteria in their digestive system

Snapping turtles, like other reptiles, naturally have high levels of bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli in their gastrointestinal tract and feces. During processing, bacteria from the turtle’s intestine can contaminate the meat.

Bacteria on the shell and skin

The shell and skin of snapping turtles can also harbor bacteria from the environment. Things like contaminated water or improper handling during processing can spread bacteria onto the meat.


Snapping turtles and other wild reptiles are at risk for parasites like roundworms, flatworms, flukes, and ticks that can infect people if the meat is undercooked. Proper cooking kills any parasites in turtle meat.

Natural toxins

Freshwater turtles like snappers may produce natural toxins and bacteria in their flesh when algae blooms occur in warm waters. These toxins are not destroyed by cooking and can cause nausea, cramps, and diarrhea.

Improper handling and storage

Bacteria multiply rapidly when turtle meat is not promptly and properly refrigerated or frozen after harvesting. Unsafe thawing, rinsing, prep, and storage provide opportunities for bacterial growth.

How to prevent getting sick from eating snapping turtle

You can prevent illness from eating snapping turtle meat by following proper handling, cooking, and storage methods including:

Proper harvesting

– Use clean equipment and processing areas away from dirt and contamination.
– Prevent intestinal punctures and fecal contamination during cleaning.
– Remove internal organs promptly, rinse thoroughly.

Sanitary processing

– Clean tools, equipment, and surfaces thoroughly before and after handling meat.
– Rinse turtle meat well under cold running water.
– Cut away any bruised/damaged flesh which can harbor bacteria.
– Work quickly in cool environment to prevent bacterial growth.

Proper chilling and storage

– Cut meat into smaller portions to chill quickly.
– Refrigerate meat right away, or freeze for later use.
– Store at 40°F or below for up to 2 days, or freeze at 0°F for 4-6 months.

Safe thawing

– Thaw frozen turtle meat slowly in the fridge, never at room temperature.
– Cook meat immediately after it thaws.

Adequate cooking

– Cook snapping turtle meat to an internal temperature of at least 165°F. Use a food thermometer to check.
– Boiling for at least 3-5 minutes after the water returns to a boil will sufficiently kill bacteria.
– Discard any meat that looks or smells bad during cooking.

Tips for safe prep and cooking of snapping turtle

Here are some key tips to keep in mind when prepping and cooking snapping turtle meat:

– Wash hands, prep tools, surfaces before and after handling raw turtle meat.
– Defrost frozen meat safely in the fridge, never at room temp.
– Marinate meat in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Don’t reuse marinade.
– Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat vs. cooked.
– Cook to an internal temp of 165°F, until meat is opaque and firm.
– Use a food thermometer to accurately check temp, especially for thick cuts.
– Don’t eat raw or undercooked turtle meat due to bacteria risk.
– Refrigerate cooked leftovers within 2 hours and reheat fully to 165°F before eating.
– When in doubt, throw it out! Discard meat that smells or looks spoiled/unusual.

Can you eat turtle raw?

It is not recommended to eat any turtle meat raw. Raw turtle meat, including snapping turtle, poses a high risk of bacterial infections like salmonellosis and parasites like roundworms and flatworms.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises against consuming raw or undercooked turtle meat as it has been linked to a high incidence of foodborne illnesses. Cooking it thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165°F is necessary to kill any potential bacteria, parasites, and viruses present.

While some claim eating raw turtle has health benefits, there is no scientific evidence to support this. The potential health risks are proven to outweigh any purported benefits.

Practicing safe food handling and cooking turtle meat properly is the best way to enjoy it without worry. Certain groups like children, the elderly, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals are at higher risk for illness and should not consume raw turtle meat.

What temperature should you cook snapping turtle to?

Snapping turtle meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165°F to kill any potential bacteria and parasites. Cooking it to 165°F destroys illness-causing organisms like Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, Vibrio, roundworms, and flatworms that may be present.

The safest approach is to use a food thermometer to accurately measure the internal temperature when cooking snapping turtle meat. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding bone, to get an accurate reading.

For thin cuts like fillets, 165°F can be reached relatively quickly. Thicker cuts like legs and tails may require prolonged simmering over low heat to allow the interior time to come up to temp. Boiling for at least 3-5 minutes after the water returns to a boil is also sufficient.

Visually, properly cooked snapping turtle meat will appear opaque throughout and the flesh will be firm. Any meat that still looks pink or has a jelly-like consistency should be cooked further until 165°F is reached for food safety.

Reheating leftover turtle meat to 165°F is also recommended. Use your food thermometer to verify leftovers reach a safe internal temperature before eating.

What happens if you eat undercooked snapping turtle?

Consuming snapping turtle meat that is raw or has not been fully cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F can make you sick. Undercooked turtle meat may contain harmful bacteria, parasites, toxins, or viruses that can lead to foodborne illness.

Potential health effects if you eat undercooked snapping turtle meat include:

Salmonella infection

– Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, and headache.

– Onset: 6-72 hours after eating.

– Duration: 4-7 days.

– Risks: Hospitalization in severe cases, higher risk for vulnerable groups.

E. coli infection

– Symptoms: Severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and possible fever. Bloody diarrhea characteristic of E. coli O157:H7 strain.

– Onset: 2–8 days after eating.

– Duration: 5-10 days.

– Risks: Hemolytic uremic syndrome leading to kidney failure in some cases.


– Symptoms: Diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, fever, nausea and vomiting.

– Onset: 2-5 days after eating.

– Duration: 2-10 days.

– Risks: Guillain-Barré syndrome, reactive arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome.

Roundworm infection

– Symptoms: Abdominal pain, cough, pneumonia, trouble breathing. Larva can migrate to organs.

– Onset: Weeks to months after eating.

– Duration: Months to years if not treated.

– Risks: Organ damage if larvae encyst in tissue. Eye damage if larvae migrate there.

So in summary, undercooked turtle can make you very sick with bacterial or parasitic infection leading to severe gastrointestinal and other symptoms. Cook all snapping turtle to 165°F to kill bacteria and parasites and prevent illness. See a doctor if any concerning symptoms develop after eating turtle meat.

Safest ways to ensure snapping turtle meat is fully cooked

Here are some reliable methods for ensuring snapping turtle meat reaches a safe internal temperature of 165°F throughout:

– Use a food thermometer – Insert into thickest part of meat and verify 165°F.

– Boil for at least 3-5 minutes after water returns to a boil.

– Bake at 350°F until opaque and firm, about 40 minutes for pieces.

– Grill over high heat 8-10 minutes per side, turning occasionally.

– Roast at 400°F for 10 minutes per pound of meat.

– Slow cook or pressure cook for 4-6 hours on low until very tender.

– Pan fry or sauté over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes per side.

– Cook in a soup or stew that simmers for at least 1 hour after adding meat.

– Steam for at least 30 minutes depending on thickness of cuts.

The safest bet is to use a good digital food thermometer any time you cook snapping turtle. Visually check meat is opaque throughout with no pink and the texture is firm. When in doubt, cook it more until 165°F is confirmed.

Can you eat snapping turtle raw from the wild?

It is not recommended to consume any raw snapping turtle meat, even if harvested directly from the wild. Raw turtle meat poses a high risk of transmitting bacteria, parasites, toxins, and viruses that can cause severe food poisoning.

Wild aquatic turtles including common snapping turtles are known to harbor pathogens like:

– Salmonella
– E. coli
– Vibrio
– Campylobacter
– Cryptosporidium
– Giardia
– Roundworms
– Tapeworms
– Arboviruses

These pathogens can infect people if turtle meat is eaten raw or undercooked. Proper cooking to an internal temperature of 165°F is necessary to kill them and make the turtle meat safe to eat.

While some claim health benefits of eating turtle meat raw, there is no scientific proof. The confirmed food safety risks far outweigh any potential benefits. Those at higher risk of infection like children, seniors, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems should never consume raw turtle meat.

Can snapping turtle make dogs sick?

Yes, dogs can get sick from eating raw or undercooked snapping turtle meat or coming into contact with turtles carrying salmonella. Some potential risks include:

– Salmonellosis – Causes vomiting, diarrhea, fever, lethargy, and abdominal pain. Can be life-threatening in severe cases.

– Campylobacteriosis – Also causes gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping in dogs.

– Parasites – Dogs can get roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and flukes from eating turtle meat. May require deworming medication.

– Cutaneous fungal infections – Turtles carry fungus that can cause skin lesions on dogs if exposed.

– Pasturella infections – Bacteria that can cause flu-like illness in dogs when exposed to turtle blood/organs.

– Toxins – Snapping turtles may release toxins through their skin that can irritate a dog’s mouth and digestive tract.

– Intestinal obstruction or perforation – Sharp pieces of the turtle shell can damage a dog’s mouth or get lodged in the digestive tract.

To prevent sickness, dogs should not be allowed to hunt, kill or eat wild turtles. Any cooked snapping turtle offered as dog food should be cooked to 165°F and have bones removed to reduce risk of intestinal injury. Proper handling of pet turtles and hygiene is also important to avoid transfer of salmonella to dogs. Seek veterinary care if a dog develops concerning symptoms after turtle exposure.

Proper handling and prep of snapping turtle meat

To safely handle and prepare snapping turtle meat for cooking:

– Wear protective gloves when handling raw turtle meat. Wash hands thoroughly after.

– Use clean cutting boards, utensils and prep surfaces. Avoid cross-contamination.

– Rinse meat well under cold running water before cooking. Pat dry.

– Refrigerate promptly after harvesting, or freeze for long term storage.

– Defrost frozen meat slowly in the refrigerator, never at room temperature.

– Marinate meat in the fridge in covered non-reactive dish. Don’t reuse marinade.

– Cut away any damaged, bruised or discolored meat that could contain bacteria.

– Portion into smaller cuts if needed to allow thorough, even cooking.

– Cook turtle meat within 1-2 days of defrosting or harvesting for best quality and safety.

– Cook fully to an internal temperature of 165°F verified with a food thermometer.

Proper handling and cooking are vital for preventing illness from snapping turtle meat consumption. Take steps to avoid cross contamination, store meat safely, and cook thoroughly.


In summary, yes – eating improperly handled, stored, or prepared snapping turtle meat can make you sick. As a reptile, snapping turtles naturally have bacteria like salmonella present which can contaminate the meat during processing. Parasites, toxins or viruses in turtle meat can also cause foodborne illnesses if the meat is consumed raw or undercooked.

However, the risk of becoming ill from eating snapping turtle meat is greatly reduced when proper food safety guidelines are followed. Using appropriate harvesting techniques, promptly refrigerating meat, storing it properly, avoiding cross-contamination, cooking meat thoroughly to 165°F internal temperature, and practicing good personal hygiene when handling turtle meat are all key to staying healthy. While alerting consumers to the potential risks, it is also important to note that snapping turtle can be included safely in the diet when correct protocols are followed at home and in commercial processing. Those at higher risk of infection or complications should take extra care or avoid turtle meat altogether.

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