Catfish Food Poisoning

Catfish makes regular appearances in many Americans' diets, and serves as a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, an important fatty acid for the body. Because catfish is a popular food item and is beneficial for health, it is important that the fish consumed is prepared safely to prevent food poisoning and food-borne illness.

A catfish steak on a wooden board. (Image: Lester120/iStock/Getty Images)

Catfish Nutrition

Raw, farmed catfish provides 13 grams of protein and 6 grams of fat per 3-ounce fillet, Nutrition Data reports. In contrast, wild-caught catfish provides only 2 grams of fat, which suggests that farm-raised catfish have a higher fat content due to a more steady supply of food. Wild-caught catfish provides 455 milligrams omega-3 fatty acids, and farm-raised catfish provides 391 milligrams omega-3 fatty acids. Catfish has a remarkably high amount of omega-6 fatty acids, an undesirable fatty acid that may increase the risk for blood clots, inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis. However, the report maintains that consuming fish still has health benefits and could be eaten a few days per week.

Parasites and Toxins

ServSafe reports that parasites and toxins are of serious concern for all seafood and fish. Fish can become contaminated by parasites when the water in which they live becomes contaminated by parasites or feces. Parasite-related illnesses include anisakiasis, cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis, which are all spread by contaminated water. You can prevent exposure to these parasites by purchasing fish from reputable suppliers. Undercooked fish can still have live parasites, so be sure to thoroughly cook fish and to only eat raw fish that is parasite-free.

Toxins in seafood are particularly dangerous because they cannot be smelled or tasted. They can cause severe illness, including scombroid and ciguatera fish poisoning. As with preventing exposure to parasites, the best way to avoid these toxins is to purchase fish from approved suppliers and to adhere to safe food handling techniques.

Local And Imported Catfish Concerns

The Washington Post in 2010 reported on a movement of domestic catfish producers advocating to have catfish imported from Vietnam to be more closely inspected, and it highlights the continuing tension between imported and domestically produced products. While the advocates for more strict regulation of imported catfish cite food safety concerns, importers and critics note that catfish food safety is not as large a concern, because catfish is not consumed raw. They also point out that the strict regulation gives an advantage to local producers, bringing the cost of imported catfish products up to the cost of domestic catfish. Local producers counter that fish has been found to be contaminated with banned antibiotics and should be inspected carefully because Americans eat large amounts of imported fish every year.

Selecting Fish

If you choose to purchase your seafood fresh, then be sure to follow the Food and Drug Administration's recommendations for selecting fish. First, the fish's eyes should be clear and glassy, not clouded or bloody. Second, the fish should produce no odor, particularly not a fishy smell. The flesh should appear to be firm, and when you press it, the flesh should spring back without a deeply lingering depression where your fingers had pressed. Freshness, the FDA explains, is essential so that scombrotoxin does not develop.

Proper Food Handling

Safely procured fish can be undone at home, if the fish is not properly stored and cooked. The FDA emphasizes the importance of keeping the fish refrigerated until ready to use. If the fish is previously frozen, refrigerate the fish until it is completely thawed. Do not thaw on the countertop. ServSafe recommends cooking fish to 145 degrees F before consuming, and use a food thermometer to ensure that the adequate temperature is reached.

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