Can Caviar Make You Sick?

If you’ve never had caviar before, it can be easy to look upon this supposed delicacy with religion, after all, you’re eating fish eggs. If it weren’t for the food’s pristine reputation, you can’t help but wonder whether people would be willing to eat it at all.

So, can caviar make you sick? There’s a pretty small chance that caviar will ever make you sick. While there are a few outlying cases, like the caviar being poorly handled or you simply not liking it, it’s highly unlikely that caviar will make you sick.

Can Caviar Make You Sick?

For those of you who are wondering exactly what those outlying cases are, stick with us and we’ll explore some of the reasons why caviar can make you sick and why those cases are so unlikely.

Will I Get Sick From Caviar?

Even if you’re one of those eaters who has a sneaking suspicion about eating fish eggs, you typically don’t have to worry about getting sick from caviar.

While mankind has some weird tastes, including fugu fish and surströmming, caviar isn’t as adventurous as it may sound, and it’s certainly not unusual enough to result in an adverse reaction.

However, there’s a key difference between a food making you sick and getting an illness because of your food, here’s a handy table to outline that difference:

Food making you sickEverything from gagging to throwing up your food
Food giving you an illnessBeing made ill by your food, i.e. botulism or e. coli

Going by these definitions, there’s a chance that both can happen, but the chance of caviar making you sick is a little higher than the odds of caviar giving you an illness.

When Can Caviar Make You Feel Sick?

In most cases, when people are feeling sick after eating caviar, it’s because they typically don’t enjoy the taste of it.

Caviar doesn’t have a very strong taste, but it certainly has a fishy taste that is almost reminiscent of saltwater.

If someone doesn’t typically eat seafood but they want to try caviar for a special occasion, then they may not be entirely prepared for the taste of caviar. The fishiness may result in someone having a sudden impulse to spit it out, and in some cases, they may even gag or vomit.

When a diner is trying caviar for the first time, be sure to give them a good idea of what they can expect to taste. If they don’t often eat seafood, then remind them that caviar consists of fish eggs, and they’re going to have to expect a fishy flavor, no matter how “fancy” the dish is.

Another thing to consider is the unique texture of caviar. Some people have misgivings about food of a certain texture, and the crunchy and then buttery texture of caviar may put those people off.

Keep in mind that this is a rare occurrence, and most people who don’t like caviar will typically try it once and decide that the dish is not for them.

When Can Caviar Give You an Illness?

This is a much more serious concern, as bad caviar can certainly make you much sicker than caviar that you just didn’t happen to like.

Because of the anaerobic environment that caviar is sealed in, there is a possibility that Clostridium botulinum can grow in the tin. This is the bacteria that is responsible for causing botulism, which has severe symptoms like facial paralysis, sometimes followed by full paralysis.

Another possibility is getting food poisoning from your caviar if it hasn’t been stored at the right temperature. In most cases, you’ll be able to tell whether or not caviar is good to eat based on its smell, but there are some borderline situations where you’re not sure if the caviar is good to eat or not.

In most cases, food poisoning from old caviar will result in relatively minor symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting. While this isn’t exactly something that you’d want, it isn’t as bad as some of the more severe illnesses that can result from improper packaging.

How Should Caviar Be Stored?

If you want to make sure that you don’t end up getting food poisoned by your caviar, you’ll have to store it in the proper conditions. There are two types of caviar:

  • Pasteurized caviar
  • Unpasteurized (fresh) caviar

Pasteurized caviar is caviar that has been exposed to temperatures of around 210 degrees F and has had at least 6% salt added to it. The salt is necessary for the pasteurization process to work.

What this does is help ensure that bacteria doesn’t grow inside of the caviar tin, and it means that it can be stored for up to 60 days outside of the refrigerator, provided it hasn’t been opened.

On the other hand, unpasteurized caviar must be refrigerated at about 23 degrees F, even if the tin hasn’t been opened up. If you’re going to store it properly, turn your fridge to the coldest setting and try to store it near the bottom of the fridge or in the meat drawer, as these tend to be the coldest places.

How is Caviar Shipped?

As you’d expect, all of this means that caviar needs to be shipped in a very specific way. If caviar hasn’t been pasteurized, then it will have to be shipped in iceboxes as well as refrigerated containers. The tins are typically kept in ice because most containers can’t reach a low enough temperature to ensure that the caviar retains its characteristics.

Because of the logistics costs that are incurred by this shipping process, you can expect to pay a lot more for unpasteurized caviar that has been shipped to you. 

While pasteurized caviar will be more affordable, it will also lose more of its flavor and texture compared to the “fresh,” unpasteurized caviar. Whether or not this is worth the sacrifice depends on your budget and exactly what you want out of your caviar.

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