Seafood consumption is often encouraged as an alternative to red meat and chicken. Seafood does not carry some of the disease risk factors associated with high-cholesterol beef or hormone-laden chicken; however, seafood comes from waters that may be infested with bacteria and parasites. The key to preventing sickness from eating seafood lies in healthy cooking, cleaning and storing practices.
Causes of Seafood Illness
In warmer weather, ocean waters heat up causing certain bacteria to flourish. Vibrio parahaemolyticus is a bacteria that causes diarrhea, cramps, vomiting, nausea, fever, chills and headache. Consuming seafood contaminated with this bacteria may cause illness that persists from 1 to 7 days. The effect is usually seen within half a day to a full day of eating the contaminated seafood. Oysters are particularly prone to this bacteria in summer months.
Mackerel and tuna have been found to lead to sickness if they are not stored in ice-cold conditions. Bacteria in these fish can turn amino acids into histamine, creating swelling, itching, hives or nausea.
Fish such as barracuda that dwell in a reef, may contain a neurotoxin that can lead to joint pain and needle-like sensations in the body. Mercury overload is also an often discussed topic in relation to eating fish. Other less common issues are mad-fish disease and tapeworm larvae which cause chills and fever.
Incidence of Seafood Poisoning
How common is seafood poisoning? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately thirty cases of seafood poisoning are reported each year in the United States. Healthcare providers are not mandated to report seafood poisoning. Additionally, many people may suffer from mild or moderate cases of illness from seafood without reporting it or without being sure of the cause of their discomfort. For all of these reasons, it is difficult to know the exact incidence of seafood-caused illness. Based on the CDC’s available data, 1 person dies every 4 years from seafood poisoning.
Preventing Seafood Illness
It is difficult to spot issues with seafood. In some cases, it is impossible to do so because seafood can look, smell and taste fine but be contaminated. However, experts suggest a few strategies for limiting exposure to illness-causing seafood:
- Thoroughly cook seafood. This destroys harmful bacteria.
- Add lemon juice to seafood. It helps to kill bacteria.
- Use a separate cutting board for seafood. Scrub it completely after each use.
- Store seafood in the freezer and use it immediately after thawing.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after touching raw seafood.
If you have a particular health condition you should exercise more caution to reduce your chances of coming in contact with contaminated seafood. For example, if you are dealing with the following health conditions you should not eat raw seafood:
- Liver disease
- Immune disorders
- Stomach conditions (e.g., low stomach acid)