Can you get sick from eating lobster? (+7 tips)

In this article, we are going to answer the question, “can you get sick from eating lobster?”  

Can you get sick from eating lobster?

Yes, you can get sick from eating lobster. This happens upon consumption of undercooked or raw shellfish, which includes lobster, oyster, crab and mussels. Raw or undercooked lobster can end up being poisoned by bacteria called vibrio, ending up being infected and having vibriosis. Consuming vibrio-contaminated lobster can result in food poisoning. Lobsters can also be infected by parasites, hepatitis and toxic algae.

Different types of infections in lobsters:

  1. Vibriosis is an infection caused by bacteria called vibrio that are commonly found in saltwaters, especially along the coasts of the USA and Canada. When these vibrio contaminate shellfish, which include crabs, lobsters, mussels and oysters, these shellfish become infected, contracting vibriosis.

Symptoms include diarrhoea, stomach aches, vomiting, nausea accompanied by fever. In the presence of wounds, they appear to be red and swollen. In some cases, symptoms get severe and can even lead to death.

  1.  Parasitic infection: Poorly cooked lobsters can also be infected by parasites like roundworms and tapeworms. These infections cause symptoms such as anemia, weight loss, fatigue, deficiencies, diarrhoea, bloating and anal itching.
  1. Hepatitis infection: The hepatitis virus is easily transmitted by uncooked or undercooked lobsters. These can result in severe health problems like liver failure. 
  1. The most common type of infection that occurs in lobsters is that of toxic algae. When lobsters consume algae which are toxic that build up and accumulate in the tissues of lobsters, consuming such lobsters results in an infection. Toxic algal infection in lobsters can cause complications like fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and neurological issues. 

Types of food poisoning in lobsters:

Shellfish, including lobsters are poisoned because of the consumption of dinoflagellates, which are a type of algae. These dinoflagellates feed on toxic substances called saxitoxins. The type of saxitoxins consumed determines the type of shellfish poisoning. Red tides are a common occurrence which are seen along with the presence of toxic dinoflagellates.  

  1. Diarrheal shellfish poisoning: This type of food poisoning mainly affects the gut, causing diarrhoea as its main symptom. It is the most common type of food poisoning, with symptoms like nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, that usually last for a day.            
  1. Paralytic shellfish poisoning: This type of poisoning starts to manifest its symptoms within half an hour of consumption. The symptoms are mainly paralysis or numbness of the mouth and tongue and a feeling of airiness or light-headedness. If not treated quickly, the infection can spread to and paralyze your lungs within a duration of two hours, causing death. Paralytic poisoning is the most severe type of food poisoning. 
  1. Neurotoxic shellfish poisoning: In this type of poisoning, one’s neurological system is affected, with symptoms like numbness throughout the body, feeling of prickliness, and sensitivity to temperature. Although neurotoxic poisoning is not fatal, it can even be contracted by inhaling the poisonous aerosols that are released from the infected shellfish.
  1. Amnesic shellfish poisoning: Consuming poisoned shellfish can even lead to memory loss or symptoms of amnesia. Initially, the symptoms resemble that of the regular case of seafood poisoning, however these escalate and affect the person’s memory, causing short-term memory loss, confusion and dementia. 

 How to eat lobsters safely?

  1. Avoid eating lobsters that have been harvested, especially along the Pacific Coast, in the season of red tides, ie. during the months between May and October. This is because once a lobster becomes poisoned by saxitoxins, no amount of cooking heat can destroy the toxic substances present inside it. It is unsuitable to eat and needs to be thrown away immediately.
  1. Consume lobsters at restaurants which are reliable.
  1. Consume only commercially grown and harvested lobsters.
  1. Eat lobsters that are known to be harvested from clean water, free from red tides and sewage. 
  1. Always thaw frozen lobster before testing for spoilage. Check if the lobster smells of ammonia, if it does, it has most likely been poisoned.
  1. Always cook the lobster when it is alive. This is because cooking a dead lobster further multiplies and spreads the amount of toxins and bacteria present inside it. If not boiled alive, these contaminants inside the lobster do not get killed even during the cooking process.  
  1. Make sure the lobster is cooked completely, i.e the meat is white in color. If the lobster is undercooked, the meat is translucent, which means the lobster needs to be cooked for a longer time.

In this article, we have answered “can you get sick from eating lobster” as well as provided 7 tips to eat lobster safely.

References:

  1. https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/health/health-topics/vibrio-parahaemolyticus.page#:~:text=You%20can%20get%20sick%20after,Any%20person%20can%20get%20vibriosis.
  1. https://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/food-nutrition/facts/shellfish-r-months1.htm
  1. https://tripprep.com/library/seafood-poisoning/traveler-summary
  1. ​​https://www.mashed.com/162528/why-does-lobster-have-to-be-cooked-alive/

Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.