Does Tilapia Need to Be Washed?

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Don't wash tilapia before cooking it for your famous fish tacos.
Don't wash tilapia before cooking it for your famous fish tacos. (Image: Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

A low-calorie food that's a good source of protein, tilapia is one of the most popular farmed fish consumed in the United States. It offers a rather bland taste that works well with a variety of side dishes and cooking techniques. You can bake, pan fry, deep fry or grill tilapia. It makes delicious fish tacos and pairs well with both spicy and slightly sweet sauces. Like other fish and meat, tilapia can carry microorganisms that cause food-borne illness.

Potential Problems

Tilapia might harbor bacteria and other harmful organisms such as Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus, Shigella and Escherichia coli O157:H7. Although food-borne illness is not frequently associated with tilapia, it is always a possibility. By following safe handling procedures, you can keep these microorganisms from making you and your family ill.

Washing Tilapia

Chances are, you wash your fruits and vegetables before you eat them. So why not wash your fish? Some of the bacteria that might be on your tilapia are very tightly attached, and running water won't remove them. Other types of bacteria wash off easily, but there's a chance that these harmful microorganisms will splash onto your counters and sink instead of running down your drain. Because these bacteria can make you sick, the U.S.Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends that you do not rinse off tilapia and other meats before cooking.

Killing the Bacteria

By cooking the tilapia properly, you will kill any potentially harmful microorganisms. Whether you're preparing fresh or frozen tilapia, cook it until it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don't have a digital food thermometer, cook your tilapia until the flesh is opaque and it separates easily with a fork.

What to Wash

While you shouldn't wash the tilapia, there are things that need to be washed while you're preparing fish. Wash your hands with warm soapy water before and after you handle the raw fish. Any surface that comes into contact with raw fish -- including counter tops, cutting boards, plates, knives and other utensils -- needs to be washed thoroughly with hot soapy water. If you are particularly concerned about bacteria, you can sanitize your surfaces and utensils with a solution made of 1 gallon of water and 1 tablespoon of bleach.

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