There’s been a recent spate of cases of anisakidosis, a parasitic disease in which the anisakid nematode—found on salmon, herring, cod, mackerel, squids, halibut, and red snapper—weasels its way into the human body and affixes itself to the lining of your esophagus, intestine, or stomach. Lovely.
Anisakidosis has a long history in Japan, where raw fish consumption has been tradition. But it’s gradually been seen more in the West as sushi has spiked in popularity.
This was affirmed with a report published last week in the British Medical Journal, which documents the case of a perfectly healthy 32-year-old man in Lisbon who was seized by dizzying spells of vomiting after a bad batch of sushi.
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The details are pretty sordid, the photographs of these larval critters positively disgusting; bless my allergies, I initially thought to myself when I read of this news. Seeing gross-out headlines didn’t exactly help. But this reaction is playing into the hands of hysteria. This incident, and the chatter it has inspired, brings to light an obvious problem: How do we know our sushi is safe? The solution isn't to give up sushi. It’s to eat more thoughtfully.
Most restaurants flash-freeze their fish for at least 15 hours to kill any parasites. If you’re making sushi at home, though, you've got three options, as recommended by the FDA: You can freeze your fish at -4° F for a week, freeze it until solid at -31° F and then store it at the same ambient temperature for 15 hours, or freeze it at -31° F until solid and store for a day at -4° F. If cooked sushi is more your jam, you can also cook the fish to reach an internal temperature of 145° F.
Otherwise, inspect your fish for worms, as most sushi chefs are trained to do. (I’m afraid these parasites are quite visible.) If you're eating out, a cue from the folks at Lifehacker: Ask questions about where your sushi comes from and do your homework. Know what you’re putting in your mouth.
What do you do to make sure you're eating safe sushi? Let us know in the comments.
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.