Can Eating Crab Make You Sick? A Look at Shellfish Poisoning and Food Safety

Crabs are a delicious seafood treat that many people love. Who doesn’t enjoy cracking open a steamed crab or dipping into some savory crab cakes? However, like any type of food, crabs do carry some safety risks if not handled properly. In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at whether crab can make you sick and what you need to know to safely enjoy this shellfish.

An Overview of Shellfish Poisoning

Eating contaminated shellfish, including crab, can cause shellfish poisoning – a foodborne illness that results from toxins produced by algae that shellfish have fed on. There are a few different types of shellfish poisoning

  • Paralytic shellfish poisoning – Caused by saxitoxin and can result in tingling, numbness, dizziness, and paralysis

  • Neurotoxic shellfish poisoning – Caused by brevetoxin and causes nausea, vomiting, and neurological symptoms

  • Amnesic shellfish poisoning – Caused by domoic acid and results in gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms

  • Diarrhetic shellfish poisoning – Caused by okadaic acid and dinophysistoxins causing diarrhea, nausea and vomiting

Shellfish poisoning is rare but can be serious It cannot be destroyed by cooking or freezing Let’s look specifically at illnesses caused by eating crab,

Can Eating Raw Crab Make You Sick?

Yes, consuming raw or undercooked crab can make you sick. Raw crab may contain:

  • Vibrio bacteria – Naturally occurs in coastal waters and thrives in warm conditions. Can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and wound infections.

  • Salmonella – Causes diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.

  • Norovirus – Highly contagious virus causing vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain.

  • Hepatitis A virus – Causes fever, nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, dark urine, and jaundice.

Always cook crab thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165°F to kill harmful pathogens. Only eat raw crab from reputable restaurants using high-quality seafood.

What About Eating Cooked Crab?

Properly cooked crab is safe for most people to eat. However, there are still some risks to be aware of:

  • Previously frozen or spoiled crab that was inadequately cooked may still harbor bacteria or viruses. Verify crab smells fresh before cooking.

  • Cross-contamination with raw crab juice can contaminate cooked crab meat. Use separate cutting boards and utensils.

  • Allergies to crab are common – watch for itchy skin, hives, swelling, chest tightness, wheezing, etc.

  • Pregnant women should limit high mercury crab like snow crab. Can cause developmental issues.

So fully cooked crab is generally safe, but take care to prevent cross-contamination and allergic reactions.

Tips to Eat Crab Safely

Follow these tips when buying, cooking, and eating crab to reduce your risk of illness:

  • Purchase fresh, refrigerated crab right before cooking. Avoid crab stored at room temperature.

  • Inspect crab for freshness – it should smell sweet, not fishy. Refrigerate promptly.

  • Cook crab thoroughly to an internal temp of 165°F. The meat should be opaque and flaky.

  • Avoid cross-contamination by using separate surfaces/tools for raw and cooked crab.

  • Refrigerate cooked crab within 2 hours and eat within 3-4 days. Discard if slimy or smells bad.

  • Reheat cooked crab thoroughly to 165°F. Do not partially reheat.

  • People with shellfish allergies should avoid crab entirely due to risk of reaction.

  • Limit consumption of high mercury crab like snow crab, especially when pregnant.

Following safe handling and cooking guidelines reduces your chances of illness. But on rare occasions, even properly cooked crab can still transmit food poisoning. So be aware of any shellfish recalls or red tide advisories in your area.

Symptoms of Shellfish Poisoning

If you do get sick after eating crab, shellfish poisoning symptoms to watch for include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Neurological issues like tingling, weakness, confusion
  • Respiratory distress
  • Low blood pressure

Seek medical treatment immediately if symptoms are severe. Milder cases often resolve on their own with rest and hydration within 1-3 days.

When to Avoid Eating Crab

Certain people should exercise caution or avoid crab entirely:

  • Children under 5 years old
  • Elderly individuals
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with a compromised immune system
  • People with known shellfish allergies

When traveling, eat crab with particular caution in places with poorer sanitation and food handling practices. Only eat fully cooked crab and condiments.

Closing Thoughts on Crab Safety

When handled properly, crab is a tasty and healthy protein source that most people can enjoy with minimal risk. Follow safe preparation, cooking, and storage practices to reduce chances of illness. Be aware of any shellfish toxin alerts or contamination warnings in your area as well. Take sensible precautions, especially when serving crab to higher risk groups like young children or pregnant women. Then you can feast on delicious crab worry-free!

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Potential Health Risks of Eating Raw Oysters


How long after eating bad crab do you get sick?

Poisoning results in gastrointestinal and neurologic illness of varying severity. Symptoms typically appear 30–60 minutes after a person ingests toxic shellfish but can be delayed for several hours.

Why do I feel nauseous after eating crab?

Signs of shellfish intolerance Digestive symptoms of shellfish sensitivity may include: Abdominal pain. Bloating. Nausea.

Can crab make you ill?

Shellfish Poisoning There are several types of toxins in contaminated shellfish that can cause illness. Toxins may be in found in mussels, oysters, clams, scallops, cockles, abalone, whelks, moon snails, Dungeness crab, shrimp, and lobster. Shellfish usually become contaminated during or after algae blooms.

Why does my stomach hurt after eating crabs?

If your mouth itches, or if you develop hives or a stomachache after eating crab, lobster or other shellfish, you may have a shellfish allergy, a condition that affects nearly 7 million Americans.

Is crab food poisoning dangerous?

Crab food poisoning, caused by neurotoxins, can lead to slurred speech, diarrhea, and vomiting. In severe cases, it can cause brain damage. A major risk factor for getting sick from crabs and shellfish is consuming them when they have been affected by red tides or algae blooms. Take our food poisoning Quiz.

Can you get paralytic shellfish poisoning if you eat crab legs?

Cooking infected shellfish or crabs does not destroy the toxin or make it safe to eat. It is impossible to tell without laboratory testing if seafood is infected. Therefore, you may become sick with paralytic shellfish poisoning even if your crab legs are not necessarily spoiled.

What happens if you eat bad crab meat?

Food poisoning is a common result of ingesting bad or undercooked crab meat. There are some toxins that contaminate crabs and shellfish that can cause problems with your health regardless of how fresh the seafood is. Is This an Emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

What happens if you eat bad crab legs?

These crabs take the toxins into their own systems and their meat becomes unsafe to eat. Symptoms of neurotoxic shellfish poisoning appear within three hours after eating bad crab legs. Symptoms include numbness, loss of coordination, upset stomach and tingling in the mouth and limbs.

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