I have recently noticed a rather large amount of small worms in the fresh cod I am buying. I have tried to take them out as much as I can and of course have spoken to my fish supplier about them, but he assures me they are harmless. However, I don't believe my customers would be as assured. Is it okay to serve this fish, taking into account I might miss a worm or two?

  • How are you preparing the fish?
    – Jay
    Jun 2, 2013 at 23:11
  • 16
    Without commenting on the safety aspect, if you served me a fish portion and I saw a worm, I would send it back. I don't think you want to go this route.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Jun 2, 2013 at 23:20
  • 2
    – TFD
    Jun 3, 2013 at 1:04
  • If I found a live or dead worm in a portion of fish that an establishment served me, I would send it back and give serious consideration to never eating there again
    – Cynetta
    Jul 23, 2018 at 15:48

4 Answers 4


Live parasitic worms are to be expected in raw fresh fish, and need to be dealt with in one of three ways:

  • Cooking: If the fish is thoroughly cooked, the worms will be dead and safe to eat.
  • Removal/avoidance: A skilled sashimi chef has an eye for parasites, and will either discard contaminated pieces, or remove the parasites.
  • Freezing: So called "sushi grade" fish is fish that has been frozen at a temperature/duration recommended by the US FDA. That's 7 days at -20°C, or colder for shorter treatments. Note that this is much colder than domestic freezers. It is said to provide a "parasite destruction guarantee".

There may be other ways to neutralise parasites, such as Eskimo-style fermented fish - but these are unlikely to be of use to you.

There is a difference between safety and palatability, though, and your customers might reasonably expect to be served fish without visible parasites.

  • 15
    Love the understatement. "might reasonably expect" Yes. Yes, that might be reasonable. Jun 3, 2013 at 15:18
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    A possible problem with the thorough cooking solution is that a cooking thorough enough to kill parasites is for many eaters an overcooking.
    – Dan Fox
    Aug 29, 2013 at 9:51

Parasites in fish are common. In short, your fishmonger could have done a better job of pulling them out (unless you bought them whole). They are not deemed harmful if cooked properly (see the FAO link below).

There are guidelines and standards about the number of Nematodes in a given amount of fish. Some types of fish are more susceptible than others, so you may wish to change your order from COD and Monkfish to something else.

Here is a document from FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations). It explains how the worms get there, the safety precautions and how to avoid serving them.

The only way to reduce the numbers of parasites reaching the consumer is to inspect the fish and process them in such a way that most parasites are removed.

An excerpt on safety (for permanence):

There have been cases of human illness caused by the ingestion of live Phocanema or Anisakis larvae in countries where raw or lightly cured fish is commonly eaten. By 1980, there had been only one reported case of illness in the United Kingdom caused by larval round worms from fish; this is because in the UK fish products are normally cooked before consumption. Phocanema and Anisakis larvae are killed in 1 minute at a temperature of 60°C or over. In practice this means that cooking a fillet 3 cm thick for 10 minutes at 60°C will kill any worms present. The temperature of a cold smoking process, for example kippering, is not high enough to kill parasites, but in a commercial hot smoking process a high enough temperature is usually maintained for long enough to kill them. Freezing of fish at - 20°C for 60 hours kills all worms.

  • 1
    Thankyou for that explanation and also the document, ill downlod now and have a read
    – chefsambob
    Jun 3, 2013 at 9:06

This depend entirely on how you are preparing the fish.

If you are cooking the fish to FDA's 100% safe temperature of 140F(for fish) then there should be no issue.

If you are serving the fish a bit rarer than that (120-130F), it is unlikely the worms can survive the temperature but it is still possible.

If you are serving the fish raw, then there will be issues. The parasitic worms will stay alive in your stomach for quite a while. Eventually your stomach will kill it but that can take weeks, sometimes even months. In the mean time, the host of this parasite will experience symptoms such as violent abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.

  • Even if the worms are killed, without knowing anything about what they are, I would be hesitant to make a safety claim... while it seems unlikely, we don't know if the worms create toxins that persist.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Jun 2, 2013 at 23:28
  • Usually we use the cod served in batter, therefor cooked through, obviously something like a ceviche I wouldnt take the chance with, more so for apearence .Jays answer is quite good, these I believe are parasite worms and I was quite confident that once the fish was cooked above the correct temperature then I would be ok, are these parasite worms common in the other fish as I have not seen them before in any of the oily fishes and come to think of it , very few flat fish also, are they only found in white round fish
    – chefsambob
    Jun 2, 2013 at 23:37
  • What worms can survive in the stomach for weeks or months? And how would they do so? Even if they can survive the acidic environment of the stomach (which many parasitic worms can) how would they remain in the stomach? Why would they not be flushed into the duodenum along with the other stomach contents? Jun 4, 2013 at 1:22
  • @CareyGregory They attach themselves to the stomach lining so they cant just be "flushed" out of the system. Tapeworms can laugh several week and sometimes several months.
    – Jay
    Jun 4, 2013 at 2:22
  • @Jay I can find no information regarding tapeworms attaching to the stomach lining. They do attach to the small intestine lining, and the body doesn't rid itself of them over time without medical intervention. If there are parasites that thrive in the stomach and eventually get killed off by the body, you're going to need to cite a source. Jun 4, 2013 at 4:32

I pulled a curled up, dead worm out of my cod just this past weekend and still finished my meal. I read about them and they do not seem to pose a hazard to humans. They are FISH parasites and highly unlikely to survive in the human stomach for very long. And (not to be TOO gruesome) they've likely been chomped to death already in one's mouth prior to entering your acid-filled stomach. Anyway, 5 of us ate the cod and nobody had any sort of adverse reaction (and the fish was delicious).

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    -1 From the wikipedia page on Anisakis, "[...] can block the digestive system, causing severe abdominal pain, malnutrition and vomiting [...] If the larvae pass into the bowel or large intestine, a severe eosinophilic granulomatous response may also occur one to two weeks following infection, causing symptoms mimicking Crohn's disease [...] Acute allergic manifestations, such as urticaria and anaphylaxis, may occur [...]". Jun 18, 2014 at 20:57
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    It's only the parasites that are not adapted to humans that make us sick. Beef tapeworms, for instance, have a long history of coexistence with humans and they have evolved to cause minimal symptoms for specifically that reason. Trichinosis worms (in pork), however, along with most fish worms, don't "know their way around" the human body, so to speak, so they get in places they shouldn't and block things up and cause all manner of horrible symptoms. Oct 26, 2014 at 13:14

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