Eating Raw, Uncooked Tuna Sushi have Several Risk

Eating Raw, Uncooked Tuna Sushi have Several Risk

“Beginners usually start with rolls and become more adventurous as they go along and began to see the dramatic possibilities of raw tuna - and salmon and octopus maki. They start with cooked seafood and sauce and then go to raw. It's crunchy and slightly salty, like a pickle without the vinegar taste. Hawaiian dish like sushi that combines cubes of fresh, raw tuna, pine nuts, chopped ogo and sesame oil with some soy sauce.


Sushi novices who are adverse to raw ingredients in traditional Japanese cuisine may be less hesitant in sampling SushiGroove’s distinctive specialties. A quick glance through the outlet’s extensive menu reveals many sushi creations which consist of cooked and non-traditional ingredients.

The Houston Chronicle bought sushi from 15 restaurants across the city on Feb. 12 and 13. The sushi was tested by ExperTox in Deer Park for mercury. Each sample was tested twice. The results showed mercury levels ranging as low as 0.23 ppm to as high as 2.76 ppm and warned customers about mercury levels and that eating raw food that may increase the risk of food borne illness.

A pregnant woman should avoid sushi and other raw fish, especially shellfish (oysters, clams). These can be polluted by raw sewage and can contain harmful microbes that can lead to severe gastrointestinal illness. Mercury from eating certain kinds of seafood is just one of many nutrition-related hazards that can confront a pregnant woman or one who wishes to become pregnant. At the same time, some pregnant women worry needlessly about nonexistent nutritional risks. Raw fish and shellfish, a possible source of the parasite Toxoplasma that can cause fetal blindness and brain damage.

Large predatory fish like swordfish, shark, king mackerel and albacore tuna (fresh or canned), which can contain risky levels of mercury. More recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed that eating sushi may be unhealthy for moms but that eating fish is generally good for you, thanks to those Omega-3 fatty acids. The FDA says to limit albacore tuna to 6 ounces a week, but it is acceptable to eat up to 12 ounces a week of chunk light tuna, shrimp, salmon, pollock and catfish.

Recent reports about high mercury levels in tuna served at ubiquitous sushi restaurants in New York have been met with a collective yawn in Japan, the world's undisputed sushi capital. In high concentrations of mercury levels in tuna can cause severe brain damage — is matched by the Japanese government, which exempts tuna from its legal limits on mercury in seafood because it's not caught coastally.

This study by The New York Times showed that at most of the 20 Manhattan stores and restaurants where the newspaper tested tuna sushi, a regular diet of six pieces a week would exceed the mercury levels considered acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency. Bigger species of tuna, generally has higher levels of mercury than other types of tuna, such as yellow fin and albacore

A 2006 study found that one in every five women of childbearing age has mercury levels that exceed the government’s acceptable limit. Women who eat fish at least twice a week have the highest levels.

The Wall Street Journal reported on one of Dr. Hightower’s patients, 10-year-old Matthew Davis. Matthew had always excelled in school, but suddenly he was missing assignments and struggling with basic math. Tests revealed that Matthew’s blood-mercury level was nearly twice what the Environmental Protection. After Matthew quit eating tuna, his blood-mercury level returned to zero and his condition dramatically improved.

If you think mercury poisoning doesn’t happen in the U.S., think again. San Francisco physician Jane Hightower found that dozens of her patients had high levels of mercury in their bodies, and many showed symptoms of mercury poisoning, including hair loss, fatigue, depression, difficulty concentrating and headaches. When her patients stopped eating fish, their symptoms disappeared.

"If you eat a meal of salmon sushi more than twice a year you will increase your risk of cancer," says Professor David Carpenter, an environmental health scientist at the University at Albany, New York. "The contaminants found in fish often overpower its beneficial effects. People think that they are improving their health by eating sushi but they are in fact poisoning themselves." In the long term, catching worms from sushi is likely to be the least of your worries. In extreme cases though; the worms will trigger anaphylaxis, a potentially lethal allergic reaction.

As Japanese sushi conquers restaurants and homes around the world, industry experts are fighting the side-effects of the raw fish boom: fake sushi bars, over-confident amateurs, poisoned consumers.

Once a rare and exotic treat, seaweed rolls and bites of raw tuna on vinegared rice are now familiar to most food fans. So familiar, in fact, that many hobby cooks in Europe and the United States like to make them in their own kitchens.

But chefs and sushi experts at an international restaurant summit in Tokyo warned of a lack of awareness in handling raw fish among amateurs and some restaurateurs who enter the profitable industry without sufficient training.

“Everybody thinks: ‘sushi is so expensive — I can buy cheap fish, fresh fish, I can make it at home.’ It’s not true. Not every fish is suitable to eat raw,” chef and restaurateur Yoshi Tome told Reuters.

Tome’s restaurant, “Sushi Ran” in Sausalito, California, was awarded a Michelin star and he often advises customers on preparing Japanese food.

He sees himself as an educator as well as a chef, and believes that more and better training opportunities are needed to prevent food scandals that could hurt the entire industry.

“I get these questions all the time — people call me: ‘Hey Yoshi, my husband went to fish a big salmon, we’re looking to eat it as sashimi. We opened it and a bunch of worms came out. Can we eat it?”’

His answer: you cannot eat it as sashimi; but you can throw away the affected parts and cook and eat the rest.

In fact, Tome said salmon, which is prone to parasites, should never be eaten raw but be cooked, marinated, or frozen before being consumed.

He described another case in which an inexperienced restaurateur in the United States served raw baby crab. This lead to cases of food poisoning and prompted a recall of that type of crab. Tome serves the crab deep-fried at his restaurant and says it is perfectly safe if prepared the right way.

“Here in Japan, some people eat raw chicken, chicken sashimi. But we know chicken can have salmonella, so in the U.S. nobody eats raw chicken,” he added.

Sushi police:

Japan’s bureaucrats drew criticism and ridicule a year ago with a plan to create a global “sushi police” that would assess Japanese restaurants overseas. Since then, there has been a change of tactics, and the emphasis is now on education and advice rather than uninvited checks.

Ryuji Ishii, who runs the Advanced Fresh Concepts Franchise Corp, the largest supplier of fresh sushi to supermarkets in the United States, finds that education is important not just for food safety purposes.

Ishii is rolling out his ready-to-eat sushi range in Wal-Mart supermarkets, having opened almost 90 sushi stalls since last September. They are planning some 400 stores in total.

But bringing raw fish and seaweed to Middle America takes some work — Ishii cautiously described the sales as “decent.”

“The challenge is, we have never dealt with that market. So far, we’ve been dealing with a very upscale market, high-end supermarkets,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the two-day summit, organized by the Organization to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad.

“In order to become really mainstream, we have to overcome the Wal-Mart consumers,” Ishii said. “We need more time to educate the consumers.”

He tries to tempt shoppers with samples of the most popular type of sushi in the United States: the California Roll, made with avocado. Purists might argue that the California Roll, a U.S. invention, is not real sushi anyway, but Ishii says it allows customers to have a first taste of Japanese food and then get hooked on more exotic items — the ones that include raw fish.

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