Shrimp is a type of shellfish, or crustacean, and a popular part of many cuisines all over the world. They can be cooked in a variety of ways and are commonly added to pastas, curries, fried rice, or even barbecued and eaten on their own.
Shrimp are chock-full of nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, essential amino acids, vitamins such as Vitamin B12, and minerals such as selenium, phosphorus and copper (1). They are therefore an important part of a healthy diet.
However, can they be eaten raw? The answer is generally no – but let’s take a look at why.
Raw shrimp is a part of some Asian cuisines, in fact, the liquid inside their head is considered a delicacy in some cultures such as Chinese culture. In Japan, fresh, raw shrimp is often a part of several sashimi dishes. In China, shrimp is soaked in strong liquor (baijiu) and eaten live.
Eating shrimp in this manner carries its own set of risks. Uncooked shrimp tends to harbour all sorts of parasites, bacteria and viruses that can lead to illnesses and food poisoning.
For example, some types of shrimp are hosts to various parasitic isopods. In fact, over 60 species of parasitic isopods have been identified in ghost and mud shrimp alone (2). While there is still much to be studied on this topic, some isopods have been identified as human pathogens (3).
Both wild and cultured shrimp can be hosts to a bacteria known as Vibrio parahaemolyticus. This bacteria causes Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS) or Acute Hepatopancreatic Necrosis Syndrome (AHPNS) in shrimp, which can be translated to gastroenteritis, i.e. stomach flu, in humans. Other strains of this bacteria can cause cholera and other such infections in humans.
Shrimp are also known to harbour other bacteria such as Bacillus, E. coli and Salmonella, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps and fever in humans (4). These symptoms are all signs of food poisoning.
Shrimps are also hosts to several viruses, including the white spot syndrome virus and the infectious myonecrosis virus (5). Unfortunately, there is currently a gap in the research on this topic regarding whether or not these viruses can be transmitted to humans.
However, shrimp are known to carry norovirus, which is a contagious disease that causes diarrhea, vomitin and fever in humans (6).
Regardless, the risk of getting ill from raw shrimp is not one that needs to be taken, especially when simply cooking the shrimp eliminates this risk altogether.
When shrimp is exposed to high temperatures of around 60°C, as in cooking, the bacteria, viruses and other parasites are killed or inactivated (5). This makes the shrimp safe to eat. Just be sure to cook the shrimp thoroughly until it is opaque or pink in colour. Alternatively, you can use a meat thermometer to ensure the shrimp is fully cooked.
In conclusion, while shrimp is prepared raw in some cuisines, the risk of contracting food poisoning or other such illnesses simply is not worth it. Cooking shrimp thoroughly is extremely important to kill all bacteria, viruses and parasites.
- Hosomi, R., Yoshida, M., & Fukunaga, K. (2012). Seafood consumption and components for health. Global journal of health science, 4(3), 72–86. doi:10.5539/gjhs.v4n3p72
- Bokyo, C. B., Williams, J. D., Shield, J. D. (2017). Parasites (Isopoda: Epicaridea and Nematoda) from ghost and mud shrimp (Decapoda: Axiidea and Gebiidea) with descriptions of a new genus and a new species of bopyrid isopod and clarification of Pseudione Kossmann, 1881). Zootaxa, 4365(3), 251-301. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4365.3.1
- Bouchon, D., Zimmer, M., & Dittmer, J. (2016). The Terrestrial Isopod Microbiome: An All-in-One Toolbox for Animal-Microbe Interactions of Ecological Relevance. Frontiers in microbiology, 7, 1472. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2016.01472
- Cornejo-Granados, F., Lopez-Zavala, A. A., Gallardo-Becerra, L., Mendoza-Vargas, A., Sánchez, F., Vichido, R., … Ochoa-Leyva, A. (2017). Microbiome of Pacific Whiteleg shrimp reveals differential bacterial community composition between Wild, Aquacultured and AHPND/EMS outbreak conditions. Scientific reports, 7(1), 11783. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-11805-w
- Karunasagar, I., & Ababouch, L. (2012). Shrimp viral diseases, import risk assessment and international trade. Indian journal of virology : an official organ of Indian Virological Society, 23(2), 141–148. doi:10.1007/s13337-012-0081-4
- Ganjoor, M. (2015). A short review on infectious viruses in cultural shrimps (Penaeidae family). Fisheries and Aquaculture Journal, 6(3), 1000136. doi:10.4172/2150- 3508.1000136