Is Lox safe to eat? (2 risks)
In this article, we will discuss whether Lox is safe to eat, the risks and benefits of eating Lox, when is Lox not safe to eat and how to handle Lox to improve its safe consumption.
Lox is the name of a traditional Jewish food that refers to brined salmon fillets. Although brined fish was originally made with other fish types, in the United States the Jews found plenty of salmon in New Yorker lakes and started making Lox (1).
Is Lox safe to eat?
Yes, Lox is safe to eat. Lox is traditionally consumed with bagels, composing one of the traditional Jewish foods (1). It is made from salt-curing of salmon fillets.
Like other brined fish products, it has a longer shelf life than fresh fish (1). However, proper handling is required for its safe consumption, as Lox can be spoiled and cause foodborne diseases (2).
In addition, due to the high concentration of salt in Lox, it may be not safe to eat for individuals who suffer from hypertension (4).
What are the risks of eating Lox?
The risks of eating Lox are foodborne diseases, including food infection and food poisoning (2, 3). In addition, the high sodium concentration in the Lox can cause negative effects on health in the long term (4).
Although the curing process to produce Lox, in which a 90 % salt brine is used, inhibits the development of most of the pathogenic bacteria, some microorganisms may survive and develop in the product, leading to its spoilage (2, 3, 4).
Halophilic bacteria, yeasts and anaerobic bacteria are microorganisms that typically spoil fish processed with high concentrations of salt (3).
However, studies report that, due to poor handling and improper hygienic conditions, some pathogenic bacteria including Salmonella and Staphylococcus were found in high counts in salt-cured fish products, including Lox (2).
The ingestion of contaminated fish can cause foodborne illnesses with symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea and lead to hospitalisations and even death. Food outbreaks were caused by the consumption of spoiled Lox in the past years (2).
The final salt concentration in cured salted fish products, such as Lox, is about 2 % and is considered high. Governmental Health Agencies have strived to reduce the amount of sodium in foods to promote health (4).
Excessive intake of salt can lead to hypertension, which is an important risk factor for developing cardiovascular diseases. In this way, the consumption of Lox and other salt-cured products should be moderate.
How much Lox is safe to eat?
A portion of 200 g of Lox per day is safe to eat, according to the recommended sodium intake of 2 g, which equals about 5 g of table salt per day (4). In 200 g of Lox, there are approximately 1.6 g of sodium (1, 4).
However, the recommended sodium intake of 2 g per day accounts for the whole sodium ingested in a day and not in one portion. You should then balance your diet to not exceed the daily upper limit, by including food items low in sodium.
When is Lox not safe to eat?
Lox is not safe to eat when it is spoiled. Lox can be contaminated by poor handling and cross-contamination during the preparation, packaging, transporting, cooking and serving (2).
Pathogens such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes can survive in Lox and other salt-cured fish products (2, 4). Other microorganisms, such as yeasts, and salt-tolerant bacteria can develop in the Lox, causing spoilage.
Possible indications of microbial spoilage in the Lox are the presence of off-odours and off-flavours characterised as rancid, sour and putrid, the production of gas and slime, the loss of texture, the presence of pink pigments on the surface (2, 3).
Is Lox safe to eat when pregnant?
Yes, Lox is safe to eat when pregnant, when consumed moderately and prepared correctly. Fish consumption is recommended during pregnancy, as fish is a source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory and improve health (6).
Health concerns about eating fish during pregnancy are related to the presence of mercury and other heavy metals that contaminate fish products, as stated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (5).
Although the FDA classifies Salmon as a low-mercury fish, recent studies report that a high concentration of mercury and other heavy metals as well as other contaminants were found in commercial Salmon samples in the Californian market (6).
In addition, due to the risk of hypertension during pregnancy, pregnant women should eat Lox in moderation (7).
It is important to remember that, due to the weakened immune system, pregnant women are more susceptible to foodborne diseases, and improved efforts should be taken to prevent food contamination when handling and cooking lox (5).
Cured fish is not recommended when pregnant, as it is usually not cooked (8). However, if you cook the Lox first, you can consume it when pregnant.
How to consume Lox safely?
To consume Lox safely, follow the recommendations:
- Buy and consume the product within its shelf life.
- Store the Lox in the refrigerator or freezer according to the recommendations given by the manufacturer.
- Although the traditional way of eating Lox is uncooked with a bagel, the safest way to eat Lox is after heating and it is essential to cook or heat the Lox before eating when pregnant (5, 8).
- Heat the Lox to a minimum temperature of 145 °F (63 °C) and do not keep uncooked or cooked Lox unrefrigerated.
- Reject the Lox when it shows any signs of spoilage, such as off-odours and discolourations, slime or gas production.
In this article, we discussed the safety of eating Lox, a cured fish of the Jewish food tradition. Despite the risks of its consumption, Lox is safe to eat.
My recommendation is, due to the high salt in the Lox, it should be eaten with a food low in salt, such as unsalted rice or unsalted potatoes.
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Hochman L, editor. Tastes of faith: Jewish eating in the United States. Purdue University Press; 2017 Dec 15.
Olitzky I, Perri AM, Shiffman MA, Werrin M. Smoked fish as a vehicle of salmonellosis. Public Health Reports. 1956 Aug;71(8):773.
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Heir E, Jacobsen M, Gaarder MØ, Berget I, Dalgaard P, Jensen MR, Holck AL. Microbial safety and sensory analyses of cold-smoked Salmon produced with sodium-reduced mineral salts and organic acid salts. Foods. 2022 May 19;11(10):1483.
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Luthfita AC, Muniroh M, Bakri S, Gumay AR, Hardian H, Birawa AD, Mulyono M, Afiyani N, Farhatania L, Dewantiningrum J. High Seafood Intake During Pregnancy and Low Blood Pressure Among Coastal Pregnant Women in Indonesia. Malaysian Journal of Medicine & Health Sciences. 2020 Dec 3;16.