Is Norway mackerel safe to eat? (3+ risks)

In this article, we will discuss whether Norway mackerel is safe to eat, what are the risks of eating Norwegian mackerel, when is Norway mackerel not safe to eat, and how to safely consume Norway mackerel.

Mackerel is a pelagic fish produced in Norway in millions of tons yearly (2). The fish is exported to many countries and is highly appreciated, in addition to being a very nutritious food.

Is Norway mackerel safe to eat?

Yes, Norway mackerel is safe to eat, unless it is spoiled. Norway mackerel is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and is considered an important source of these fatty acids as well as of vitamin D, vitamin B12 and iodine for human nutrition (1).

On the other hand, the consumption of Norway mackerel is related to the following safety concerns: spoilage, poisoning, heavy metals and chemical contaminants (1, 2, 3, 5).

The risks will be discussed in detail in the following sections of this article.

What are the risks of eating Norway mackerel?

The risks of eating Norway mackerel are summarised in the table below (1, 2, 3, 4, 5):

Risk  Description

Foodborne illness

The Norway mackerel, like other fish species, is susceptible to contamination by microorganisms, including pathogens and parasites. The ingestion of contaminated fish or toxins produced by pathogens can lead to foodborne illnesses with symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and stomach pain.

Parasites may also be present in Norway mackerel when consumed undercooked or uncooked.

Histamine poisoning

The Norway mackerel is a Scombroidae fish species. These fish species are susceptible to microbial degradation, which results in the generation of high levels of histamine in their flesh, especially due to poor storage conditions. Scombrotoxin fish poisoning or histamine intoxication is manifested by vomiting, diarrhoea and skin rashes.

Mercury and heavy metals

Mercury contamination is an important risk especially in the case of pregnant women and children, as high levels of mercury and other heavy metals may lead to neurological damage and cancer in the long term. Although the level of mercury was not considered a risk in mackerel samples in studies, elevated Cadmium was measured in commercial mackerel samples in two studies. 

Chemical contaminants

Chemical contaminants derived from polluants may also be a risk when consuming fish. Hexachlorobenzene and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyl were two chemical contaminants found in high concentrations in mackerel samples analysed in a study.

What are the benefits of eating Norway mackerel?

The benefits of eating Norway mackerel are the many nutrients offered by this fish and its high-quality and lean proteins (1, 5). Fish is a source of important vitamins, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, phosphorus, calcium, iron, selenium and iodine (6).

Mackerel is rich in omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are essential fatty acids with high anti-inflammatory properties and positive effects on human health (5, 6).

The regular consumption of omega-3-rich fish is related to a lower risk of developing inflammatory diseases, including coronary heart disease, and the improvement of the brain and retina. 

When is Norway mackerel not safe to eat?

Norway mackerel is not safe to eat when it is spoiled. Spoilage is usually caused by microbial contamination. Some microorganisms are naturally found in the fish while other microorganisms result from cross-contamination and handling.

Spoilage in Norway mackerel can be identified by the presence of off-odours characterised as rancid, putrid, sour, ammoniacal and sulphurous (7); the softening of the texture and liquid exudation, possible generation of gas and slime.

Discolouration can also occur, indicating the growth of microorganisms. The degree and rate at which the changes in the fish occur depend on the type of packaging, the storage temperature and the initial microbial load of the product (4, 7). 

How to safely consume Norway mackerel?

To safely consume Norway mackerel, safety recommendations should be followed, from the fish purchase to its cooking and serving (4, 7, 8):

Choosing the Norway mackerel
  • Choose a fish of good appearance and neutral odour without a “fishy” unpleasant odour.
  • Gills should be intact, bright and not opaque. 
  • The colour of the fish should be bright and without discolouration.
  • The texture should be firm. 
Storing the Norway mackerel
  • Fresh fish should be stored in the refrigerator for 2 days or in the freezer for 3 months in the freezer.
  • Packed fish can have different shelf lives, according to the manufacturer’s indications in the packaging.
  • Fish packed in modified atmosphere packaging can have a shelf life of many weeks.
Cooking the Norway mackerel
  • Cook till the internal temperature reaches 145 °F (63 °C) and the flesh is opaque.
  • Leftovers should be cooled and stored in the refrigerator or freezer within 3 days and 3 months, respectively.


In this article, we discussed the safety of eating Norway mackerel, what are the risks and benefits of eating Norway mackerel, and how to safely consume Norway mackerel. 

Mackerel is a very nutritious and delicious fish despite the risks associated with its consumption, you should include it in your diet. I recommend fried or baked mackerel with vegetables.

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