How to Make Sure the Salmon You Eat Is Safe

A new CDC study about salmon parasites may be especially upsetting for sushi, sashimi and ceviche fans. Here's what you need to know about preparing salmon.
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Photo by: northlightimages

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The news cycle has just brought word of a super-gross study about salmon that may be especially upsetting for sushi, sashimi and ceviche fans. Basically, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if you eat fish that is either raw or undercooked, you open yourself up to the risk of being infected by a tapeworm, including the intestinally invasive Japanese broad tapeworm (aka Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense).

While the Japanese broad tapeworm — which, according to the CDC, can grow to be as long as 30 feet (sorry, squeamish readers) — was previously believed to found only in fish in Asia, the new research indicates that may be found in salmon on the Pacific coast of North America, including in wild Alaskan salmon.

Four Pacific salmon species — chum, masu, pink and sockeye — have been singled out as particular risks because they are transported without having been frozen all over the world, according to the CDC, which published the study in its journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

So what can you do to make sure your salmon is safe? It’s actually kind of basic.

1: Cook it (to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees F).

2: Freeze it (at negative 4 degrees F or below for several days or negative 31 degrees F or below for 15 hours).

“It’s always best to cook seafood thoroughly to minimize the risk of foodborne illness,” the U.S. Food & Drug Administration advises. “However, if you choose to eat raw fish anyway, one rule of thumb is to eat fish that has been previously frozen.”

Freezing out to kill parasites, but it may not do away with every potentially dangerous pathogen, the FDA says. “That’s why the safest route is to cook your seafood.”

Does that mean that you have to give up sushi?

Not necessarily. The risk of getting infected by a tapeworm from raw salmon is “clearly … small,” Patrick Okolo, chief of gastroenterology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, explained to the Chicago Tribune.

William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told CNN that the majority of those who are infected with a tapeworm have no symptoms at all, although some may experience “a little bit of abdominal discomfort, some have nausea or loose stools, and some even lose a little weight.”

Although in extreme cases people may experience a “massive infection” that may block their intestinal tract or cause inflammation of the gallbladder, in most cases, a tapeworm is not “dangerous,” Amesh Adalja, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, told the Tribune.

Long-term vitamin B12 deficiency, which may have neurological implications, is a risk as well. But the good news is that a tapeworm infection, if detected, can be treated with safe, effective targeted medication. “Praziquantel or niclosamide are used most often,” according to the CDC.

In other words, don’t panic, fish lovers. Just be careful.

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