Can You Eat Sockeye Salmon Raw?

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Sockeye salmon, also known as red salmon or blueback salmon, is a variety of wild salmon found in Pacific waters and prized for its rich color and taste. It can be eaten in a variety of ways -- grilled, seared, cured or raw, such as in sushi -- but because of its lean texture and complex flavor, it should not be overcooked. Certain terms and food grades can help you determine whether or not your salmon is safe to be enjoyed raw.

Sushi or Sashimi Grade

  • Most people are familiar with the term “sushi” in reference to the traditional Japanese food of vinegared rice, seaweed, vegetables and often raw fish. “Sashimi” is raw fish served alone, without vinegared rice or other ingredients. When purchasing sockeye salmon for the purpose of eating raw, look for the words sushi or sashimi grade, indicating that the fish was "flash frozen" to ensure a low bacteria count and is safe to consume without cooking. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises pregnant woman and people with weakened immune systems -- including the elderly and young children -- to avoid eating raw seafood.

Flash Frozen

  • The term “flash frozen” means the fish has been commercially frozen prior to preparation in order to kill any bacteria that causes foodborne illness. With sockeye salmon intended for raw consumption, this process is usually done at sea to keep the fish pristine. The FDA’s food code recommends specific freezing conditions to retailers who provide fish intended for raw consumption. Some states also have their own regulations for restaurants serving sushi and sashimi. For example, the Colorado Public Health Department requires seafood certified as sushi or sashimi grade be frozen at or below negative 4 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of seven days in a freezer, or to a temperature of negative 31 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 hours in a blast freezer prior to preparation.

Purchasing and Storing

  • When purchasing fresh sockeye, look for fish with firm and shiny flesh, and an odor that is clean and briny like the sea. Freeze or refrigerate fresh seafood immediately after purchasing. Buying fresh sockeye salmon at the supermarket and freezing at home does not have the same effects a flash freezing. Store uncooked fish -- including any prepared sushi rolls and leftovers -- below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in order to prevent food borne illnesses. A refrigerator thermometer helps to ensure the proper temperature.

Cross Contamination

  • To avoid cross contamination, handle raw fish separately from other foods. When preparing raw seafood at home, use a dedicated cutting board and thoroughly wash all knives and plates that touch the raw fish. Properly wash your hands before, during and after preparation.

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