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[whitespace] They Squirm for Sushi

By Allie Gottlieb

A LOT OF PEOPLE decline to eat sushi because they think there's just no way eating raw fish can be, well ... safe. So what are the chances of picking up something extra in that tuna roll? Not huge, but sometimes nasty parasites do piggyback on an order of raw fish. In the past five years, 21 cases of fish-carried roundworm were reported to the California Department of Health Services. In 1980, four L.A. physicians came down with tapeworm after eating sushi, but no other outbreaks have been reported since then.

Nevertheless, the concept of eating worms is so disgusting that it deserves a good going over. Here's the situation: The sea world trades parasites by eating larvae, then being eaten along with the larvae. If you eat a parasitic roundworm, you might feel "violent abdominal pain, nausea," and then you might vomit. "Occasionally the larvae are coughed up," comforts the Centers for Disease Control's website. It you eat a tapeworm, you're likely to develop a distended tummy and get diarrhea and cramps. (Sometimes Scandinavians become severely anemic.)

Expert worm-slaying chefs in good sushi joints can prevent all this. The practice of "candling," where a worm spotter holds the fish up to a light and checks for illegal campers, sometimes helps crack down on the moochers. Freezing for 15 hours at minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit is also Kryptonite for parasites. (News that's happy and rhymes!)

California hasn't adopted the Federal Model Food Code requiring that all fish scheduled for raw eating be frozen first. Lucky for sushi eaters, common sushi fish types, like yellowtail tuna, are cold-water fish and less susceptible to some parasites than warm-water bottom feeders, says Ben Sun of the California Department of Health Services' Division of Communicable Disease Control.

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From the May 8-15, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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