Posted on Apr 13, 2012 in Food & drink, Health & safety
How is it possible that sushi (the raw fish part, anyway) is actually safe to eat?
We cook chicken. We cook pork. We cook beef (ok, some of us more than others — I take mine medium-rare). Why and how in the world do we eat raw fish? Well, the why is pretty simple — to a lot of us, it tastes fantastic, and completely different than when cooked. As for the how, as in the safety in eating uncooked animal flesh, well, it’s pretty simple.
The reason why sushi fans don’t have to worry about getting sick from eating raw fish is simple: any fish served as sushi in the US must first be frozen. Specifically, for seven days at -4° F or for 15 hours at -31° F. This kills any parasites that could be contained within the fish.
In fact, the number of people who fall victim to sushi-related illness is far, far lower than the number of people who fall victim to contaminated produce every year. The most likely culprit for foodborne illness from eating sushi comes from the rice — bacillus cereus spreads rapidly at rice that sits at room temperature. Luckily, sushi rice is prepared with vinegar, lowering its pH to 4.1, killing those pesky microbes that make us sick.
Experts agree you’re far more at risk from e. coli or salmonella poisoning from undercooked beef and chicken, respectively, than you ever are from eating sushi.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is certain types of fish can be high in mercury, which is poisonous to humans.
>> Why do fish have mercury in them?
If you’re a casual sushi eater, you don’t really have much to worry about here, as the doses are low enough to be of little concern. If you are throwing down at the local sushi bar weekly, or are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, here’s a partial list of common fish known to be high in mercury content:
For a more complete list, check out this article at americanpregnancy.org.
The bottom line is — go ahead and shove those rolls, sashimi, and nigiri down your throat by the handful, you’re highly unlikely to get sick from it. Less likely than you are to get sick from a rare steak, in fact. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and give sushi a try! (Just don’t hang on to any leftovers after a day.)
Sushi photo by vladislav.bezrukov
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