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Can Frozen Fish in Supermarkets Be Eaten Raw?

Updated: Mar 31

(Image by Margo Lipa from Pixabay)

You may have come across the terms "sushi-grade" or "sashimi-grade" fish, which are recommended for raw consumption. The FDA suggests freezing fish for sushi to eliminate parasites. However, it's essential to understand whether the frozen fish available at supermarkets is safe to eat raw.

The short answer is No, as not all frozen fish are suitable for raw consumption. While freezing does kill parasites, some bacteria and germs may survive, potentially causing foodborne illnesses.

"Once thawed, however, these microbes can again become active, multiplying under the right conditions to levels that can lead to foodborne illness. Since they will grow at about the same rate as microorganisms on fresh food, you must handle thawed items as you would any perishable food." — Does freezing food kill bacteria? Ask USDA

It may sound surprising, but many organisms can survive in conditions lethal to humans, even in space:

Extremophiles are organisms that thrive under extreme conditions. Conditions that would kill a human in less than a microsecond. Most extremophiles are microorganisms like fungi, algae, bacteria, and archaea. - Artic Microphia

Another crucial factor is the freshness of the fish when it is frozen. Freezing does not make the fish fresher; it retains the quality it had when frozen. If the fish is not suitable for raw consumption before freezing, it would be unsafe to eat raw after thawing.

So, what makes fish suitable for raw consumption?

Several factors determine whether a fish is safe to eat raw

1. Type of fish

Some fish are safe to eat raw, such as Tuna (yellowfin, Bigeye, and Bluefin) and Scallops. However, certain types like Mackerel (Saba) are not safe to consume raw, even if frozen (they require curing). Most cod is also unsuitable for raw consumption due to parasites. While freezing can kill most parasites, it may not eliminate all bacteria and germs. As a result, fresh frozen cod is generally not recommended for raw consumption and is not served as sushi grade or sashimi grade at supermarkets.

2. The freshness of the fish

If the fish is safe to eat raw (e.g., Salmon), frozen while still fresh, it remains safe after thawing.

3. Labels

Look for fish labeled as "Sashimi," "Sushi," or "For Raw Consumption."

The image shows a package of Hamachi Sashimi sold at a supermarket in San Jose, CA. Similar products can be found at Japanese and Asian supermarkets across the US, some in the freezer section. The label "Hamachi Sashimi" indicates that eating raw is safe. When buying similar products in the freezer section, ensure they are appropriately labeled for raw consumption. If no labeling is present, it's best to consult the fishmonger for advice.

If you need more clarification about which fish is safe to eat raw, I recommend seeking guidance from the fishmonger, as their expertise ensures a safer choice. Taking a chance to purchase fish without proper knowledge can be risky, as determining a fish's suitability for raw consumption often requires years of experience and observation. Stay safe, and enjoy your sushi experience!


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