Worms Wiggling Through Your Dinner: Is It Ever Normal or Safe?!

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Remember that horrifying story from last week about the woman who found parasite worms wiggling through her salmon? Some of us have been trying to forget.

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But we also wanted to dig deeper and find out how common this is, and what we can possibly do to safeguard against sharing our fish with such unsavory critters.

Here, Doris T. Hicks, seafood technology specialist with the Delaware Sea Grant, and adviser for SeafoodHealthFacts.org, helps us navigate these murky kitchen matters.

How common are parasites in fish?
Hicks tells us different fish tend to be infested during specific seasons. "Most fish buyers know what times of the year to avoid buying fish when parasites are more prevalent," she says.

Are parasites always visible?
"Most parasites in fish are worms that we can see," Hicks says. "Sometimes, there will be small cysts but we can also see those." Infested fish are usually eliminated before they wind up on store shelves through a practice called "candling." Processors pass fish over a light which can reveal parasites inside of the fish.

Will cooking kill parasites?
Say you, the store, and the processor all manage to miss an infested fish, and you end up feeding it to your family. Should you panic? As long as you cook that fish at a temperature of 145 degrees for more than 15 seconds (some say five minutes), your fish should be safe to consume.

More from The Stir: Don't Eat That -- Until You Test Your Food Safety Smarts

What about raw fish such as sushi?
"Freezing under commercial conditions will also kill parasites," Hicks says. "Fish destined for a sushi restaurant where it could be served raw will be frozen to kill potential parasites if there is a chance they could be present."

In fact, using salmon for sushi isn't even traditional except in the northernmost regions of Japan. It's a fairly recent trend. Salmon spend their lives in both fresh and salt waters, and in general, well-trained sushi chefs avoid using freshwater fish.

What's the safest way to handle fish?
Aside from closely examining fish before preparing it and cooking it properly, there are a few other things you can do. "Always purchase fish from a reputable establishment," Hicks recommends. "Make it your last purchase [of your shopping trip], and keep it cold." When you get home, you'll want to keep that fish in the coldest part of your fridge, on ice if possible. And be sure to use that fish within one to two days, Hick says.

Anything else we should be worried about?
Parasites are the evil you can see. But more dangerous are pathogens, bacteria, and viruses, which Hicks says can make you very sick and can also cause spoilage in the fish.

You can read more about seafood handling safety at SeafoodHealthFacts.org.

Just speaking for myself, I'm going to think twice before buying cheap salmon sushi rolls from the corner deli from now on. But it is reassuring that as long as I'm careful, I can probably protect my family and myself from fishy contamination.

How will this change how you shop for and prepare fish?

 

Image via © studio-d/iStock

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