Delicious fresh steamed mussels in white wine sauce in a white plate, a lemon and parsley on a gray background
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Can You Eat Raw Mussels?

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Mussels are a type of shellfish, and they make for a delicious meal and are most commonly cooked in a sauce or with some seasoning, but some people do enjoy eating mussels raw.

However, there is some concern with eating mussels raw and not cooked.

So, can you eat raw mussels? You can eat raw mussels, but there is a risk that the raw mussels might contain bacteria that could lead to food-borne illness, which could make you considerably sick. If you are considering eating raw mussels, there are some precautions you need to take. It is considered best to cook mussels first.

Keep reading to find out more about eating raw mussels, the risks involved, and the best way to enjoy mussels!

Is It Safe To Eat Raw Mussels?

Whether raw mussels are safe to eat or not is a highly contested subject.

There are some cases where eating raw mussels might be fine, but there is a high risk that the mussels might contain harmful bacteria that could make you really sick.

Mussels themselves cannot make you sick — it is the bacteria that the mussels might accumulate in the ocean that pose the biggest risk.

These bacteria and pathogens can be killed during the cooking process, but eating the mussels raw means that you will be ingesting whatever bacteria might be present on the mussel.

If the mussels you are eating raw do not harbor these harmful pathogens and bacteria, then they will be fine to eat, however, it can be difficult to tell whether the mussels are contaminated or not, which is the real problem.

The safest option is to not eat raw mussels — to reduce the risk of eating mussels that contain harmful bacteria, cook the mussels to kill off any bacteria present.

Why You Shouldn’t Eat Raw Mussels

The main reason why you should not eat raw mussels is that they might contain pathogens and bacteria that can lead to food poisoning, which can be serious.

The main bacteria found in mussels could lead to illnesses such as Vibrio parahaemolyticus, E Coli, and salmonella. The mussels might contain one or all of these, but all of these can make you ill.

Eating raw mussels that harbor these bacteria can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea

These are all symptoms of food poisoning — while you might be able to treat it yourself at home, some cases can be more serious, and those who are more vulnerable can become seriously ill from this.

What Do Raw Mussels Taste Like?

Raw mussels have quite a distinctive flavor, but it is fairly similar to how mussels taste when cooked. 

Fresh, raw mussels have a sea-salt-like flavor to them, with undertones of seaweed and seafood. They are both sweet and salty at the same time, and they do not have too overwhelming of a flavor.

When eating fresh mussels raw, they can be eaten “as is” or they can be flavored with some lemon juice or hot sauce, just to add a kick of flavor and accentuate the natural flavor of the mussel.

Who Should Avoid Eating Raw Mussels?

As raw mussels have a high risk of bacteria and pathogens and can make you sick, there are some people who are more at risk of becoming sick from mussels than others.

Those who are pregnant, those who have a weakened immune system, the elderly, and young children should all avoid eating raw mussels.

Their risk of becoming sick is increased, and the foodborne illness might have more of a serious effect on their health.

However, even healthy adults are at risk of serious illness from eating raw mussels, so it is something that should not be taken lightly.

Can You Purchase Raw Mussels In Restaurants?

Eating raw mussels is not always safe, but there are some restaurants that sell raw mussels as a delicacy.

Before you go and think that this is a sign that raw mussels are safe to eat, it is important to note that most restaurants prepare their mussels in an acid mix beforehand, which can help to kill off some bacteria.

This acid mix is usually made with vinegar, salt, spices, and sometimes onions. This not only helps to keep the mussels in good condition, but it adds to the overall flavor as well.

Can You Eat Undercooked Mussels?

Eating raw mussels is one thing, but you might have cooked the mussels slightly and wonder if they are still fine to eat.

There is still a risk of foodborne illness when eating undercooked mussels, as the mussels need to reach a certain temperature when cooking for the bacteria to be killed off, making the mussels safe to eat.

Mussels need to be cooked to at least 149°F to be safe, as this is the temperature where the bacteria and pathogens will be killed off.

Mussels do not actually need to be cooked for too long since they are quite small, — they only need around 5-7 minutes to cook, so undercooking them isn’t actually all that easy.

Generally, you should avoid eating undercooked mussels, as they could still contain harmful bacteria.

How To Know Which Mussels Are Safe To Eat

Whether you are eating mussels raw or fresh, you need to choose the right mussels to enjoy.

You could opt for frozen mussels, which will have been cleaned and selected for you already, but fresh is always best.

Here are a few tips on how to choose the best mussels.

Look For Closed Shells

The first thing you should look for is to see whether the mussel shells are closed or not. The mussels should ideally still be alive when bought, and a closed shell is a sign that the mussels are still alive. 

The shell might be slightly open, but it should close again — you might not have all the time to wait if you are shopping, so you should only pick out shells that are closed.  

Open shells are a sign that the mussels have died or are not good anymore, and this could indicate an increase in bacteria growth.

Look For Whole Shells

Even if the shell is closed, it should not be cracked or chipped. Cracks or chips in the shell can show that the mussel is dead or that they were not harvested and transported properly, making them unsafe to eat.

Cracks in the shell could also be an opening for bacteria to enter the mussel, making them a source of food-borne illness if eaten.

Look For Clean Shells

One more thing to look for on the shells is cleanliness. When harvested, the mussels should be cleaned, even if only a bit.

A dirty shell shows that they have not been cared for or prepared properly, and it is best to stay away from this.

Smell For Any Off Odor

Mussels will have an oceanic, salty smell to them, and that is absolutely fine — it is a good sign that they are fresh. However, if the smell is too strong or slightly rancid, then you should stay away from them.

When they die and begin to spoil, mussels will have an obvious off smell, and they should be easy enough to pick up on. Don’t feel bad sniffing all the mussels you are wanting to purchase!

Can You Eat Frozen Mussels?

Frozen Mussels on a Plate.

A popular way to sell mussels is frozen, but while the freezing process can help to kill off some bacteria, it might not kill it all.

Mussels should ideally be frozen when they are still alive, to ensure that they keep their best quality and are as fresh as possible when freezing.

However, some brands partially cook mussels before freezing, but this partial cooking does not always kill off the bacteria that might be present.

Eating frozen mussels without cooking them still runs the risk of foodborne illness.

This is because freezing does not kill off most bacteria — it instead puts the bacteria into a state of hibernation, so once they are thawed, the bacteria can multiply again.

So, eating frozen raw mussels, or even partially cooked mussels, still comes with the risk of illness since the bacteria can still very well be present.

It is best to cook frozen raw mussels (or partially cooked frozen mussels) fully before eating them.

They should be cooked at high heat for a short amount of time — this will kill off any bacteria and still keep the mussels soft and delicious.

How To Clean Mussels

The fishmonger or grocery where you are buying the mussels should ideally have cleaned them first, but you might need to clean the mussels yourself as well before cooking.

You should only clean the mussels just as you are about to cook them — cleaning them could kill them, and you want to cook them as fresh as possible.

Clean one mussel at a time. Begin by rinsing the shell under running water and rubbing the shell to remove any dirt and debris.

Some mussels might have what is called a “beard,” which looks like a small, hairy rope. Remove this by pulling it towards the end of the mussel. It should pull off, but if not, then you could cut it with a small pair of scissors.

Repeat this with all of the mussels, inspecting to see that the shells are still closed fully. Also, make sure to keep the mussels out of a bowl of water while cleaning. 

Once all of the mussels are cooked, you can give them one final rinse and put them to one side.

Here’s a helpful video from Jamie Oliver on YouTube for our more visual learners:

How To Cook Mussels

Cooking mussels can be really easy, as they only need to cook for a short period of time. The best way to cook mussels is to steam them at high heat quickly.

Start the cooking process by finding a large enough pot that has a tight-fitting lid. The mussels should only take up one-third of the space in the pot.

You then need to pick out the broth or sauce you want to cook the mussels in, whether it is a wine-based sauce or coconut milk, and pour this into the pot.

There should be around one inch of liquid in the pot — just enough to steam the mussels, but not boil them. Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring it to a boil.

Once boiling, add the mussels to the pot and place the lid on tightly.  Set a timer for 3 minutes — once the time is up, stir the mussels and place the lid back on. Let them cook for another 3 minutes, which will be enough to fully cook them.

Check to see that all the shells have opened during cooking, and discard any shells that have not opened during the cooking process.

How To Store Fresh Mussels

If you are planning on eating mussels raw, or even if you are planning on cooking them, you need to know how to store them properly to keep them in the best condition before eating.

Storing them properly will also help to reduce the chance of bacterial growth!

It is always ideal to eat mussels the same day that they have been bought, as they will be at their best, freshest quality. However, if you cannot eat them on the same day, you can keep them in the fridge for up to two days.

If storing the mussels for up to two days, then you might need to throw some away when it comes time to cook since a few might have died while being stored, so it might be worth buying extra.

To store the mussels, place them in a colander or a strainer, and place this over a bowl. This allows any liquid to drop down to the bottom bowl, and not suffocate the mussels.

Do not cover the bowl with plastic wrap, as the mussels are still alive and need to breathe. Place the bowl in the fridge and use the mussels before your two days are up.

Once again, wait until you are about to cook the mussels to clean them, and check for any dead mussels before cooking.

Final Thoughts

You can technically eat raw mussels, but it is not something that is recommended. Raw mussels can contain harmful bacteria, which could lead to serious foodborne illnesses.

Even the freshest mussels might still contain these harmful bacteria and pathogens, and there isn’t always a well to tell if they do or not. This is why the risk is so high.

The best way to enjoy mussels is to pick fresh mussels that are clean and closed, then cook them at high heat for around 7 minutes.

This is enough time to cook the mussels fully, ensuring that any bacteria is killed off, and still have soft and tasty mussels.

With all the great ways you can cook mussels and all the amazing flavors you can pair them with, there is no reason to take the risk of eating them raw!

Related Questions

Now that we’ve learned all about mussels and why you probably shouldn’t eat them raw, here are some additional questions that we thought you might have.

Can you eat mussels right out of the ocean?

You can eat mussels right out of the ocean, but it isn’t advised to do so. Mussels that have not been properly cleaned might contain bacteria that could make you sick, no matter how fresh they might seem.

Should mussels float or sink?

To check your mussels, see that the shell is shut. If the shell is slightly open, squeeze it shut — if it stays shut then the mussel is still alive and the mussel is fine to eat.

Next, place the mussels in a bowl of water. If they sink, they are fresh, but if they float, they are dead and should be thrown away.

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