Is it safe to eat trout?

Trout is a popular fish enjoyed by many around the world. However, some people wonder if eating trout is safe due to concerns about pollution and contamination. This article provides a comprehensive look at the safety of eating trout.

Is trout safe to eat raw?

Eating raw trout is generally not recommended. Raw fish can contain harmful bacteria, parasites, and viruses that are killed during the cooking process. Consuming raw trout increases the risk of foodborne illnesses such as salmonella, E. coli, vibriosis, and tapeworms. Pregnant women, children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable. While sushi-grade trout that has been flash frozen to kill parasites can be consumed raw, it’s safer to cook trout thoroughly before eating.

Is farm-raised trout safe to eat?

Yes, farm-raised trout is considered safe to eat. In the United States, trout raised on aquafarms must meet set requirements for water quality, food safety, and antibiotic use enforced by the FDA. Farm-raised trout are raised in controlled environments, fed a commercial feed, and monitored for disease. This lowers their risk of contamination compared to wild trout. However, the following precautions should still be taken with farmed trout:

  • Check for quality certification from producers like the Global Aquaculture Alliance Best Aquaculture Practices.
  • Look for raw trout that smells fresh, not fishy or ammonia-like.
  • Cook trout to an internal temperature of at least 145°F to kill bacteria and parasites.

Is wild trout safe to eat?

Wild trout caught from local waterways can be safe to eat in moderation if proper precautions are taken. Steps to ensure wild trout is safe include:

  • Following local fish consumption advisories which provide guidelines for safe consumption based on pollution levels in waterways.
  • Avoiding trout from contaminated waters and bodies of water with algal blooms or red tides.
  • Trimming skin and fat which can accumulate industrial pollutants.
  • Cooking trout thoroughly to an internal temperature of 145°F.
  • Freezing for at least 7 days at -4°F to kill parasites before consumption.

Pregnant women, children, and people with weak immune systems should avoid or limit wild trout due to higher risk of contamination. Follow all local notices for fishing areas impacted by pollution spills or waste contamination.

Does trout contain mercury or other contaminants?

Trout generally have low levels of mercury and other contaminants like PCBs and dioxins compared to larger, long-lived fish like tuna, shark, and swordfish. However, trout can absorb some environmental contaminants from the waters they inhabit. Levels vary based on multiple factors:

  • Size and age: Larger, older trout may accumulate more mercury over time.
  • Origin: Wild trout, especially from contaminated waters, have higher contaminant levels than farm-raised.
  • Species: Lake trout tend to have higher mercury levels than rainbow or brown trout.
  • Part consumed: The skin and fatty belly area may contain more concentrated contaminants.

While a healthy adult eating the average portion of trout (6 oz) is unlikely to exceed safe mercury intake levels, those who regularly eat larger portions or trout meals may need to take extra precautions like trimming belly fat and skin.

Average mercury levels in trout species

Trout Species Average Total Mercury (parts per million)
Rainbow trout 0.071
Brown trout 0.110
Brook trout 0.072
Lake trout 0.420

For comparison, mercury levels above 0.5 ppm are considered potentially unsafe by the FDA.

Does cooking affect the safety of eating trout?

Proper cooking kills bacteria, viruses, and parasites that may be present in raw trout. The FDA recommends cooking trout to an internal temperature of 145°F to eliminate foodborne illness risks. Fish should be opaque and flake easily with a fork at this temperature. Using a food thermometer provides the most reliable doneness indicator. Other tips for safe cooking include:

  • Thawing frozen trout in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave to prevent bacterial growth.
  • Marinating trout in vinegar, wine, or lemon juice to help neutralize bacteria.
  • Cooking trout within two days of purchase or thawing.
  • Bringing sauces and glazes to a boil after cooking to kill germs.

Cooking does not destroy contaminants like mercury. However, proper cooking helps avoid health risks from foodborne pathogens when eating both farm-raised and wild-caught trout.

What are the risks of eating undercooked trout?

Eating raw or undercooked trout can increase the risk of contracting a foodborne illness. Potential dangers include:

  • Salmonella – Bacteria causing fever, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and headache.
  • Vibrio – Bacteria responsible for vibriosis leading to diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, fever, and chills.
  • E. coli – Bacteria causing severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.
  • Tapeworms – Fish tapeworm infection with symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and vitamin deficiencies.
  • Listeria – Bacteria with flu-like symptoms along with convulsions, headaches, and stiff neck.

At-risk groups like pregnant women, children, older adults, and those with autoimmune disorders are more prone to complications and severe illness from these pathogens. Undercooked trout can also sometimes contain toxins like ciguatera from algal blooms which cause gastrointestinal, neurological, and cardiac issues.

Minimum safe cooking temperatures

Cooking Method Minimum Internal Temperature
Pan frying or sautéing 63°C / 145°F
Baking 74°C / 165°F
Broiling 74°C / 165°F
Poaching 70°C / 158°F

What are best practices for safe trout consumption?

Follow these tips for safely maximizing the health benefits of trout while minimizing potential risks:

  • Choose farmed trout when possible for lower contaminant levels. Look for reputable certified producers.
  • Check local advisories for fishing locations and recommended trout consumption limits.
  • Trim skin, belly fat, and dark meat which accumulate more contaminants.
  • Eat a diverse diet of seafood rather than just trout to limit mercury exposure.
  • Cook trout thoroughly to an internal temperature of 145°F.
  • Avoid raw preparation like sushi or ceviche unless using sushi-grade previously frozen trout.
  • Store fresh trout on ice or in refrigerator and cook within two days of purchase.

Following safe purchasing, preparation, and cooking practices allows you to enjoy the great taste and nutritional benefits of trout while avoiding potential foodborne illnesses and toxicity.


Trout is considered a healthy fish full of protein, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids. However, as with any protein food, safety precautions need to be taken to avoid potential contamination issues and health risks. Overall, both farmed and wild trout can be eaten safely if proper guidelines are followed for sourcing, handling, and cooking. Limiting intake frequency and meal portion size provides added protection for those concerned about contaminant exposure. With appropriate care taken to choose quality trout and prepare it thoroughly, trout can be enjoyed as part of a nutritious, well-rounded diet.

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