Crab meat should never be consumed raw because the chances of getting sick is quite high, especially for people that are compromised, children below the age of 5 years, and also older adults.
Raw crabs, depending on the region where they are reared and harvested, may host a variety of pathogens including bacteria and parasites which can cause diseases such as cholera and lung infection.
Because of this, whatever plans you have, centered on the live blue crabs you recently bought from the grocery store, ensure that eating them raw is not a part of it.
Crabs naturally carry pathogens
Crabs are marine crustaceans found all around the world. And just like many crustaceans, they’re hosts to a wide array of harmful pathogens which may be attached to them in two primary ways.
- First is when the crabs are directly infected with the pathogen.
- Second is when they passively carry the pathogen around without being infected.
Now the different areas that crabs live also influence the type of pathogen they may carry, and the general variety in the population of pathogens means that consumers will develop different symptoms and suffer separate diseases when infected.
In general, crab meat has been found to contain harmful bacteria such as Vibrio cholera; responsible for the deadly cholera disease, Vibrio parahaemolyticus; responsible for food poisoning with symptoms such as diarrhea and fever, and even parasites like the lung fluke which can migrate into the lungs when ingested and cause the chronic lung disease.
In addition to this, the handling of raw crab meat at home, just as with any other meat, almost certainly exposes the meat to microorganisms such as bacteria that are ubiquitous to the surrounding, even to seriously dangerous levels, unless you’re familiar with the safety practices for handling crab meat (see the end of the article) and stick diligently with them; which should only do the work of minimizing the concentration of bacteria that end up on your meat and not banishing them completely.
So there is definitely the need to heat crab meat to a safe internal and external temperature in order to render it safe for human consumption.
This is the primary reason why crab meat (or most meat in general) are labelled as unsafe to eat raw. They could potentially make you sick.
With that said, any recipes that recommends eating raw crab meat such as Ganjang Gejang (marinated raw crab meat) or raw crab meat stuffed inside salad, should be struck out of the list of dishes you plan on cooking with crab meat.
Who are more susceptible and why?
According to a publication titled “Food Safety, A need-to-know Guide For Those at Risk” issued out by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), certain group of people are more susceptible to food borne illness than others with their side effects often much more severe and exaggerated.
These categories of people include:
- People with compromised immune system (sick patients): Cancer, Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, people with autoimmune diseases and Transplant recipients.
- Older Adults.
- Children under 5 years of age.
- Pregnant women.
For the first category, it’s pretty clear why they are at such a high risk of infection.
The individual disease in one way or the other, negatively affects the ability of the immune system to function properly, thus making them very susceptible to diseases especially those that are food borne.
Cancer patients for example undergo chemotherapy and radiation which can negatively affect the immune system with the progression of time.
For older adults, those above the age of 65, the changes undergone by the organs and body systems is the chief culprit. In children under the age of 5 years, their immune system is still developing and thus cannot fight diseases quite like an adult’s immune system. And for pregnant women, the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy affects the immune system and thus renders it temporarily compromised.
If you fall easily into any of these bracket, make sure to stir clear of eating raw crab meat and consult with your registered health advisor on what diet is best suited for you.
What about canned crab meat?
Canned crab meat are typically cooked (pasteurized) before packaging. So they are void of harmful bacteria and therefore may be eaten straight away from the container just as you would a can of sardine. The best use for canned crab meat however, is to purpose them into recipes such as salad or crab cake.
What about imitation crab?
Just like canned crab meat, the constituents of imitation crab are actually precooked. Thus, the entire package is perfectly safe to consume the way it is (when maintained below 40 F (refrigeration) or 0 F (freezing) at all times). An imitation crab kept at room temperature for longer than 2 hours should be discarded.
To better enjoy imitation crab, purpose it into salad, crab cakes or pair with pasta or rice. Delicious!
A table enumerating sea food items to avoid eating raw
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What are the safety practices with crab meat?
- Never consume crab meat raw for the reasons mentioned above.
- Consume crab meat only when it is fully cooked and steaming hot everywhere.
- Never store picked crab meat, or crab meat left in the shells after the crab has been killed and cooked for more than 3 days in the refrigerator.
- Never freeze crab meat for more than one month to reap the optimal textural and flavor quality.
- Ensure that crab is well and alive before killing it in order to prevent bacterial contamination.
- Picked crab meat loose freshness faster when frozen. Thus, crab meat is best frozen in its shells.
Crab meat should never be consumed raw because it may have pathogen thriving inside of it which can cause disease in the body.
For maximum safety, crab meat should be cooked thoroughly via boiling or steaming which will eliminate the pathogens present in and on it. Steaming is actually the better preferred method for preservation of flavor.
Whichever way, make sure crab meat is cooked before purposing it into any later recipe or even consuming it straight.