Food safety alert: roll-up risk for raw fish

26th August 2020 | Eativity editors

The Food Safety Information Council wants to alert consumers about food safety risks, especially from parasites, in preparing your own raw fish dishes such as sushi, sashimi, ceviche, gravlax and cold-smoked salmon. If learning how to make your own sushi has been one of your #quarantinegoals, consider where you source your ingredients, how you handle them and how you store both your ingredients and your final masterpiece.

Cathy Moir, Council Chair, says that while fish is an important part of a nutritious diet, like any raw food, there can be safety risks. She urges budding raw chefs following global e-learning trends to keep both themselves and dinner party guests safe.

“There are food safety rules governing the raw fish dishes that you buy from a food outlet,” she says. “But if you prepare them yourselves, remember that raw fish can be a hazardous food; it can be a source of infection from parasites. Traditional additions to raw fish dishes such as vinegar, lemon juice or salt will not kill the infectious stages of parasites.”

Food safety alert for raw fish
There’s no such thing as too much sushi, unless it’s riddled with parasites…

A parasite problem

Moir says there’s evidence that seafood parasitic illness is increasing around the world. However, this is currently not widely reported in Australia.

“This increase may be due to a greater consumption of raw and undercooked wild-caught fish,” she says. “And the fact that fishing boats throw more fish waste overboard. Sea mammals, such as seals, whales and dolphins, are the major hosts of the anisakis parasite. This leads to wild fish contamination.”

Symptoms of parasitic infection are wide-ranging. They can include stomach ache, vomiting and diarrhoea. There can also be allergic-type reactions such as tingling tongue, cough, rash, heart palpitations or even anaphylactic shock. Symptoms can occur within six hours or up to a week after consumption. Allergic symptoms can occasionally be immediate. Some of these symptoms may be prolonged or become chronic until the parasite is physically “evicted” from the body or appropriate treatment is prescribed by your doctor.

Food safety alert for raw fish
Make sure you wash your rolling mats scrupulously.

Want to prepare raw fish dishes yourself? Follow these 6 tips

1. Know your source. Source good quality fish from a reputable supplier that uses the Australian Fish Names Standard so you know what type of fish you are buying.

2. Avoid that home catch. It’s best not to use fish caught personally or by friends.

3. Freeze it. Freezing the fish for a minimum of seven days (longer for large fish) will kill parasites. It’s important to know from your retailer if the fish you’re buying has been frozen and for how long. Remember that freezing won’t kill food poisoning bacteria or viruses. Nor will it prevent allergic reactions from parasites.

4. Wash your hands. Before and after preparing raw fish, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds and dry thoroughly.

5. Wash your tools. Make sure all utensils and chopping boards are thoroughly washed in warm soapy water and dried. Take particular care to scrupulously clean bamboo rolling mats for sushi. They should be scrubbed using a brush with soap under hot water to remove any food residue and left to dry thoroughly.

6. Cool rice quickly. Remember that sushi rice can also be a food poisoning risk as toxins can form if it cools slowly. Follow sushi recipes carefully, especially the amount of vinegar to be added. Once cooked, divide the rice into small containers, cover and cool in the fridge. This is generally one of the most important food safety issues for sushi.

Food safety alert for raw fish
Sashimi might be delicious, but it’s not recommended for some people.

Safety first

“Pregnant women, the elderly and people with poor immune systems should not eat raw fish dishes or cold-cooked prawns and cold-smoked fish because of the potentially fatal risk of the food poisoning bacteria Listeria,” Moir warns. “This applies whether the raw fish dishes are bought commercially or prepared at home. A safer alternative for these groups is to cook any fish or seafood to at least 63°C in the centre using a thermometer.”

We could all use more fish in our diets. Both raw and cooked seafood is a great way to get more omega-3 and 6 fatty acids into our diet.

“Doing so safely doesn’t need to be a chore,” Moir says. “When these points become part of food-prep habits, we roll up fun, safety and Insta-worthy plates into one great evening.”