What foodborne illnesses are associated with sushi?

Many people love Japanese cuisine, but should you be worried about sushi’s health risks?

Listeria, salmonella, and tapeworms are just a few risks that could make you consider whether sushi is safe to eat.

Sushi is a problematic food because it’s made with raw fish — according to the Food and Drug Administration, raw fish can harbor parasites, bacteria, and viruses.

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Diseases Associated with Sushi

One common disease associated with sushi consumption is anisakiasis. It’s caused by eating fish infected with a parasitic worm which attaches to your esophagus, stomach, or intestines and can cause food poisoning.

The best way to prevent the disease is to completely avoid eating raw or undercooked fish or squid. While the disease is not especially common, it’s becoming more prevalent in the United States, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Listeria is another common concern with sushi and smoked seafood, which is why it’s recommended pregnant women avoid eating those foods completely.

RELATED: Bagged Greens and Salads? A Salmonella Risk?

Finding Safe Sushi: How You Can Prevent Illness

Properly trained sushi chefs know how to buy, examine, store, and handle fish to minimize the risk of illness and parasites. In Japan, sushi chefs must be licensed; however, that’s not required in the United States.

What about “sushi grade” fish? While that may sound like a comforting designation, in America “sushi grade” isn’t regulated.

There are things you can do and look for to help prevent illness and contamination.

Only Visit Reputable Sushi Restaurants

One of the best precautions is to frequent reputable sushi restaurants that have well-trained staffs. Knowledgeable sushi chefs will easily detect anisakis larvae, which is quite visible in raw fish. Looking for the cheapest sushi may not be your best bet in this case.

Reputable restaurants with trained staff will also know how to properly handle fish. The FDA has recommendations for the transportation and storage of sushi fish. It should also be flash frozen prior to preparation.

Fish should be frozen to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of seven days before it’s used in food. Flash freezing fish at a low temperature kills parasites and prevents infection.

Pick the Right Fish

Some fish are simply a no-no for eating raw or sushi style; that includes freshwater fish like pike, yellow perch, and brook trout. Never eat these fish as sushi — they must be thoroughly cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit before consumption.

Tuna is often considered a safer option for sushi. It’s a faster fish, so it often avoids parasites. This doesn’t protect it from other contamination issues, like salmonella, but it’s one way to reduce your risk.

Avoid At-Home Attempts at Sushi

Seems like a safer bet, right? Not exactly.

The average person is not trained to handle fish correctly. Additionally, a home freezer won’t get cold enough to kill parasites. And most fish sold at the supermarket is not properly frozen, so it’s, unfortunately, not sushi grade.

Some populations — like pregnant women, young children, and people with compromised immune systems — should avoid eating sushi altogether because the risk of infection is too high.

Eating sushi doesn’t have to be a complex or frightening indulgence. Consider the risks, and then follow these tips for a healthier, parasite-free sushi experience.


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