Does Sushi Pose a Health Risk?

Definitely not sushi à la carte

One of the joys of living in a large city with a sizable Asian population is the variety of sushi and sashimi restaurants that one encounters. The joy in eating sushi is as much about watching the process of it being prepared as it is about the texture of the fish itself (which usually, but not always, trumps the taste). Does anyone forget that first time eating sushi when all you can think about was the fact that the fish was raw? No food gets a greater warning for first timers than sushi, but the joy in tasting it makes for an excellent payoff.

Now, what about sushi being raw fish? Doesn’t it mean that we gamble with our health every time we go down to the local sushi joint? According to we shouldn’t worry at all:

Sushi eaters don’t typically have to worry because sushi restaurants take certain steps in handling and preparing their fish. A required step involves freezing fish at temperatures of -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius) for seven days, or frozen at -31 degrees Fahrenheit (-35 degrees Celsius) for 15 hours, which kills any parasites.

“As far as sushi goes, the rules are in place because people were getting sick,” said Keith Schneider, a microbiologist and food safety expert at the University of Florida. “The parasites are why we do the freezing on the raw fish.”

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.

However, there is a dangerous side that few venture to:

Many sushi lovers feast contentedly on albacore or eel, but a few people aim for a more dangerous culinary experience by eating the raw flesh of a poisonous puffer fish called fugu.

Master fugu chefs sometimes include some of the poison in their prepared dish, which creates a tingly feeling on the lips when eaten. However, improperly prepared fugu can kill due to the fish’s potent neurotoxin.

“I consider it more of a dare than a delicacy,” Schneider said. “There are people who kill themselves every year trying to make fugu, and it gives sushi a bad name.”

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