Do crab gills-"dead man's fingers," really make you ill if you eat them?

I have always been told that to properly prepare the cooked Maryland Blue
Crab (either hard or softshell), after cracking off the shell the gills must
be removed. These are feathery-looking spongy structures also called “dead
man’s fingers” underneath the shell and over the meat. Supposedly, eating
these structures will make you ill. I find it improbable that there is a
poison that could be present in the gills but not in the rest of the crab.
I also can’t quite see it as a concentration repository for bacteria (like
shrimp veins, I suppose). What do you know about it? (There is also a
variety of coral called “dead man’s fingers” too. No relation.)

(These instructions actually apply to all crab preparation).

From this page on crab preparation:

Nah, pretty much everyone in my family has tried eating them at one time or another. None of us got sick, although I don’t know that anybody was particularly eager to repeat the experiment.

They don’t taste very good, either. We have steamed crabs all the time, and I’ve gotten them in my mouth by accident several times. They’re a very odd texture and taste really nasty. I just spit it out and keep going after the meat.

I got food poisoning from crabs once, and while my MIL was convinced it was from accidentally eating a piece of the gill, I’m pretty sure it was from eating one that was already dead when it was steamed. That will make you sick as a dog.

You have to cook a LIVE crab or else you’ll get sick???

Yes, when you steam them, they must be alive. Any that are dead should be thrown out.

If they’re dead when you steam them, you’ll get sick.
The bacteria multiplies very quickly.
Here and here. At the secind link, you need to scroll down to the “important note.”

So, I know this is digging up a really old thread, but this popped up on my search results and I wanted to correct something above. You absolutely can cook dead crabs as long as YOU know HOW LONG they’ve been dead. If you’re crabbing and you have your catch on ice in a cooler, you can cook them all even if some of them die. Eating a crab that you find dead and don’t know how long it’s been dead is very dangerous. The reason crabbers have to throw away “dead loss” is because they’re out for weeks at a time and there’s no way to know how long the crab has been dead.

Where are crabbers out for “weeks at a time?”

The Bering sea, for one place.

Yup, they can be out at sea for up to four weeks, especially if they have trouble making their quotas. They won’t come back to port unless their holds are full. Their strings of pots run for miles and they can be setting on grounds where the crabs aren’t all that plentiful. So they end up pulling pots, rebaiting them, and resetting them over and over again. Also, they can only keep mature male crabs, so they can end up throwing five or six crabs back into the sea for every one they can keep.

This is a thread about Chesapeake Bay blue crabs. Those crabbers are NOT out for weeks at a time-- hardly "days at a time. " At least, not to my knowledge.

WTF is up with the moderation here lately?
Ever hear of thread drift?

Why did you ask the first question then?

The original question was answered 13 years ago. Do you really think allowing the thread to drift onto an associated topic is a major problem at this stage?

I’m on the Eastern Shore od MD. It’s not industrial scale crabbing. Most crabbers are back for dinner or within a day or so at most.

This thread is about whether certain parts of a crab can make you ill.

Somebody made the comment that they did get ill eating crab, but it wasn’t from eating that part, it was from cooking a dead crab.

Somebody else, in the spirit of fighting ignorance, corrected that misconception. They noted that cooking fresh dead crab is just fine. They noted that the myth probably started because crabbers who are out for weeks throw out all dead crabs, but they do that because they can’t tell which are freshly dead an which have been dead for weeks.

Whether Chesapeake Bay crabbers are out for weeks seems totally irrelevant. The issue of crabbers being out for weeks was raised to explain the source of some popular ignorance posted in this thread. Nobody claimed it was true of Chesapeake Bay crabbers. The only claim was that where it is true, crabbers throw out dead crabs because they don’t know how ling t hey have been dead. Not because freshly dead crabs can’t be cooked.

OK, I missed that in the OP. What I know about crabbing I learned from “Deadliest Catch.”

I have crabbed on the Patuxent river where it enters the Chesapeake bay, and I’ve watched Deadliest Catch. And I’ve made crab cakes from scratch. Thus establishing my bona fides to make declarations about crabbing.

My crabbing did not take weeks, but it sure did use up a lot of beer. The most I ever drank before 7 AM. And before 8 AM. And before 9 AM.


QtM, who now crabs soberly.

My crabbing involves a string, some chicken necks and a dip net. I’m barely gone hours. The fact remains that as long as you know how long a crab has been dead and you’ve had it iced, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t cook it and eat it.

Well said. Thanks.