Eating sushi is one favorite pastime shared across the globe. It’s a unique cuisine originating from Japan and widely adopted by establishments in almost every country. But there are some dangers you may be putting yourself through when you dine on raw fish.
Sushi is a significant part of most modern cultures. In fact, some surveys show that only 32 percent of people living in the U.S. have never eaten sushi. But most sushi contains raw fish, which can share the same health concerns as raw meat.
Like raw meat, raw fish can be contaminated with parasites. In fact, one study found that the parasite anisakis simplex infests 39.4 percent of mackerel being sold in markets. Louisiana State University says that spaghetti worms infect 40 percent of speckled trout in Mississippi and Louisiana. And recently, experts found Japanese broad tapeworms infesting wild pink salmon in Alaska. These species of tapeworms are usually only found in the Asia Pacific. These are only three out of the countless kinds of parasites that infect fish used in sushi. Bottom line: odds are it’s not safe to consume raw fish unless it’s prepared correctly.
Some parasitic infections from sushi completely clear themselves without medical intervention. The anisakis parasite can’t live in humans for a long period of time and dies within a month after inhabiting your gut. But while it makes its home in your gastrointestinal tract, it may cause vomiting, nausea, and pain. But some people can have severe or allergic reactions that can lead to anaphylaxis and intestinal bleeding.
After dying, the anisakis parasite’s body, which is still attached to your GI tract, becomes an inflamed mass that can cause further unpleasant symptoms.
But some parasites you can get from eating sushi will only get worse without medical intervention. Tapeworm infestations can go undetected for months or years, but pose dangerous threats because their eggs and body segments can break off and enter your bloodstream, where they can migrate to other parts of your body. These include your brain, lungs, muscles, and other organs, where they’ll flourish by eating you from the inside! Even if the tapeworms remain in your gut, they’ll cause nutrient deficiencies in the long term.
Here’s How You Can Lower Your Risks When Eating Sushi
Parasite infections from sushi are under 20,000 cases per year worldwide. But millions (if not billions) of people eat sushi everyday – that means it’s possible to eat sushi safely. Here are some things you can do to lower your risks of getting a parasite infection from eating sushi:
Do your research on the sushi restaurant. The FDA says freezing raw fish below -31 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 hours or -4 degrees Fahrenheit for seven days kills any parasites that may be present. But they also caution that flukes can be resistant to freezing. Ask the restaurant if they freeze the raw fish they use for their sushi – if they do sufficiently, then their sushi is most likely safer to eat.
Don’t eat sushi prepared using freshly caught fish. If you happen to live near a beach and you see a proprietor offering sushi prepared using freshly caught raw fish, then they haven’t killed any possible parasites by freezing. You should stay away from such establishments.
Use vinegar. Try to dip your sushi in some vinegar seasoning (like sushi vinegar). Vinegar has antibiotic properties because of its acetic acid content. Although freezing kills parasites in raw fish, it doesn’t kill some bacterial pathogens, like salmonella. Dipping your sushi in a vinegar mixture can help kill any remaining bacteria in the raw fish.
Eating raw fish, which is a fundamental of sushi, will always come with some risks. The best way to clear fish of any infectious pathogens is to cook it thoroughly. But if you follow these safety tips, you’ll be less likely to get sick after enjoying sushi.