Is it safe to eat medium rare salmon? (Precautions)

In this article, we will explore whether medium rare salmon is safe to eat by discussing the different levels of doneness of salmon, the reasons for most people preferring medium rare salmon, the precautions to safely eat medium rare salmon, and the risks associated with consuming medium rare salmon prepared with improper handling practices.

Medium rare salmon is one among the five levels of doneness during the cooking of salmon and is the most preferred salmon doneness because of its pink appearance, flavour, and texture. But, from the safety point of view, some precautions are necessary to avoid health risks.

Is it safe to eat medium rare salmon?

No, it is not safe to eat medium rare salmon. Because the internal temperature used to cook medium rare salmon (115-125F/46-42C) is in the temperature range (40-140F/4-60C) in which foodborne parasites and microorganisms can thrive (1,2).

A safe internal cooking temperature of 145F (63C) is recommended for complete killing of parasites and microorganisms in salmon (3,4,5,6).

However, properly handled salmon that is previously frozen for at least 7 days (-4F/-20C) and properly thawed is safe to eat after cooking at all levels of doneness and even raw (3,7).

What are the different levels of doneness of salmon?

Salmon is consumed at five different levels of doneness to enjoy different appetizing looks, flavours, and textures as shown in the table below: 

Level of doneness Cooking temperature Appearance, flavour, and texture
Rare 110-115F (43-46C) Translucent, soft, and uncooked in the middle with a deep pink colour and less flavour.
Medium rare 115-125F (46-52C) Slightly translucent, soft, moist, pink-coloured, and undercooked in the middle.
Medium 125-135F (52-57C) Mostly opaque, moist, and better cooked in the middle with enhanced flakiness and flavour.
Medium well 135-140F (57-60C) Opaque, less moist, and mostly cooked in the middle with enhanced flavour and light pink colour.
Well done 140-145F (60-63C) Opaque, slightly juicy, firm, and well-cooked with good flavour and little or no pink colour.

Why is medium rare salmon preferred by most people?

Regardless of its safety, medium rate salmon is preferred by most people including chefs globally. This is mainly because of its appetizing pink colour with slightly translucent, tender, and slightly cooked in the middle offering perfect texture to cut and eat.

On the other hand, salmon with other levels of doneness including medium, medium well, and well done is less preferred due to gradual loss in pink colour, translucency, tenderness, juiciness, and soft texture, while the rare salmon is less preferred because of the uncooked middle part despite its deep pink colour, translucency, and tenderness.

Is medium rare doneness safe for properly handled salmon?

Yes, properly handled salmon with medium rare doneness is safe, but you should be cautious to ensure that medium rare salmon is prepared with properly handled salmon (3,7). For instance, salmon with ‘sushi’ or ‘sashimi’ grade is safe as it is previously processed with proper handling practices to attain food safety.

Among the proper handling practices, the most critical one is to freeze and store under the following conditions before eating raw or cooked salmon (8):

Storage temperature Storage time
Freezing and storing at -4F (-20C) 7 days
Freezing at -31F (-35C) and storing at -4F (-20C) 24 hours
Freezing at -31F (-35C) and storing at -31F (-35C) 15 hours

What are the proper handling practices of salmon?

The proper handling practices are based on a four-letter short form “CSCC” indicating “Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill” accompanied by the following description (9,10,11):

Proper handling practice Description
  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.
  • Rinse the food items under running water.


  • Separate salmon from other meat, eggs, seafood, and other food items.
  • Use separate cutting boards, utensils, and plates.
  • Cook salmon to 145F (63C).
  • Freeze the raw salmon at -4F (-20C) for 7 days or -31F (-35C) for 15 hours before eating raw or cooking.
  • Store raw salmon at 40F (4C) in a refrigerator for use within 2-3 days.
  • Store raw salmon at -4F (-20C) in a freezer to use within 3 months.
  • Store cooked and leftovers at 40F (4C) in a refrigerator for use within 2-3 days.

What are the risks of eating improperly handled salmon?

When it comes to taste or safety, always choose safety. If you are unsure of the proper handling of salmon, then your best bet should be to eat fully cooked well-done salmon.

You should be aware that eating raw and undercooked salmon prepared with improperly handled salmon can result in food poisoning due to harmful foodborne parasites and microorganisms (1,2,3,4,7).

Symptoms of food poisoning include stomach discomfort, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, and weight loss along with consumed parasites causing serious illness over a long time (1,9).


In this article, we have answered the question “Is it safe to eat medium rare salmon?” by elaborating on different levels of salmon doneness, people’s desire and conviction to eat medium rare salmon, precautionary measures to safely consume medium rare salmon, and the possible risks and health symptoms in people consuming improperly handled medium rate salmon. As a food scientist, I suggest that salmon should be consumed by all for its high nutritional value, but with proper precautions to enjoy this fulfilling diet. 

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