Is Sushi Safe to Eat?September 6, 2008
Sushi Painting by Utagawa Hiroshige
The short answer is no because it will turn you into a kitten :P Take a look at a scientific answer:
In Japanese cuisine, sushi (寿司, 鮨, 鮓) is vinegared rice, usually topped with other ingredients, including fish, various meats, and vegetables. Outside of Japan, sushi is sometimes misunderstood to mean the raw fish itself, or even any fresh raw-seafood dishes. In Japan, sliced raw fish alone is called sashimi (刺身)and is distinct from sushi, as sashimi is the raw fish component, not the rice component.
The word sashimi means “pierced body”, i.e. “刺身 = sashimi = 刺し = sashi (pierced, stuck) and 身 = mi (body, meat), may derive from the culinary practice of sticking the fish’s tail and fin to the slices in identifying the fish being eaten.
- If the culprit is a tapeworm, fluke, or flatworm, you may not even know it until it passes out in your stool. Or you might experience nausea, cramps, and diarrhea.
- Bacteria can develop in non-fresh fish and produce enzymes called histamines that may result in Scombroid poisoning.
- Certain tropical-water fish may also have a natural toxin called ciguatera which causes gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms.
- The bacillus cereus bacteria can spread rapidly in rice that sits at room temperature. Sushi rice requires an acidic bath in a vinegary solution that lowers the PH to 4.1, killing troublemaking microbes and making sushi safer for the everyday foodie.
- If the worm you swallow is the roundworm (Anisakis simplex), it may tickle your throat as it is swallowed, causing you to cough or vomit it up. Or it can bore into your stomach or gut lining, causing severe abdominal inflammation and pain that mimics appendicitis or an ulcer, often within an hour of eating. Getting the worm out at this point is no simple matter – it requires an endoscope or surgery.
- Other Foodborne illnesses
- European Union regulations: freezing fish at -20°C (-4°F) for 24 hours kills parasites.
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends freezing at -35°C (-31°F) for 15 hours, or at -20°C (-4°F) for 7 days.
- Please note, home freezers usually can’t reach temperatures this low.
Choose Your Fish
- Food and Drug Administration recommends sticking with mid-ocean fish like yellow-fin tuna, which have a very low risk of parasites. To further minimize the risk, order vegetable or processed varieties like smoked salmon.
- Dr. Andrew Weil advises against eating tuna, as well as bluefish, swordfish, king mackerel, tile fish and marlin in any form because of the high levels of mercury they contain.
How often people get sick because of sushi?
The cases of sushi-related illness fall far below the number of people sickened by contaminated produce such jalapeno peppers. Even in those rare cases, the rice in sushi is more often the culprit than the fish.
The chance of getting sick from fish, cooked or raw, is actually much less than from chicken or meat, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) statistics tell us.
Who should avoid eating sushi?
People in frail healthy, compromised immune system, elderly, young children, and pregnant women.
Safe sushi eating tips from experts:
- Order sushi from reputable restaurants, where the restaurant and fish provider follow food safety standards. You can ask if the fish has been previously frozen.
- Completely cooked is always the safest way to eat fish
- The FDA recommends that you don’t risk eating raw fish if you’re pregnant or have a compromised immune system.
- Don’t make your own sushi with raw fish unless you can freeze the fish for more than 72 hours at 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead, use cooked fish or vegetables.
Watch this tutorial about proper etiquette when ordering and eating sushi :)