by Rick Moore
|Something Fishy Going On Here
It's been a tough couple of months for the Europeans, what with the mad cow disease and hoof-and-mouth disease threats. No wonder beef consumption has taken a nose dive. It's really scary when you think about it, because even in the 21st century we face health threats from our food supply.
So, don't be scared by what I'm about to tell you, because my real reason is to inform and educate, and to help prevent you from doing harm to yourself. I feel that people need to know the facts about what's in their food and what's been done to it before they eat it. That way you can be the judge. I'm particularly concerned about the seafood we eat. I know what you're thinking: "He's going to ruin it for all of us fish eaters," right? Not exactly. But I feel you need to know some basic facts so that your seafood is safe to consume.
It seems that a record number of people are eating under-cookedeven rawseafood that may be hazardous to their health. Eating barely cooked fish can result in sicknesses with chills, sweats, stomach cramps, nausea, and other assorted bug-nasties. No way? Think again. You need to cook seafood thoroughly for the same reasons that you need to cook pork and other meats thoroughly. Cooking kills bacteria, viruses, and parasites that occur in the natural environment and grow during the time (sometimes a long time) seafood is being taken to market.
Thanks to much publicity about the health benefits of fish (where have you been these past 10 years?) and thanks to chefs who've picked up on this popularity, record numbers of people are now eating seafood. The problem is, it's become trendy to eat it raw or hardly cooked. You can now read through fine restaurant menus and find raw fish as sushi, marinated in lime juice, or "washed" in hot oil (a technique that cooks just on the outside leaving the insides still raw).
My mother always told me to eat my vegetables raw and my fish cooked. Now, I know the Japanese have been eating raw fish for centuries without many problems, but people in Japan still get sick from seafood. You have to remember it's not the raw fish itself that's the problem. It's the bacteria, viruses, and parasites in it. If the seafood is mishandled, not properly refrigerated, or kept in the distribution channel too long, then the problems tend to be worse. The Japanese have much stricter seafood inspection than we do in the U.S., preventing widespread problems.
Not only can you get sick from food poisoning with raw or undercooked seafood, but you could also get parasites like worms. Cool, huh? You can even get hepatitis A. You take a big risk. Let's check out some of the most popular fish and seafood and the consequences you face upon ingesting ill-prepared product.
Take tuna. Everyone loves tuna, right? If you order your tuna seared lightly and it's still raw on the inside, you run the risk of both bacteria contamination and parasites. According to officials, a lot of tuna sold at your local supermarket or fish market was probably caught nearly a month ago. Yikes!
How about salmon? You love it, don't you? Salmon can carry a parasite called the anisakis worm, which can survive undercooking. Reports show that the parasite is becoming drug resistant, and victims may even require surgery.
Now, let's get to those half-shell critters that are supposed to be good for your sex lifeoysters. Raw oysters served on the half-shell may contain hepatitis A. We were always told to cook oysters just until their shells opened. Now they've found that it may not be enough to kill the virus. Now that's scary!
Everyone likes cod, right? Many diners like theirs lightly steamed, and some like it fresh-killed out of the tank and eaten with squirts of lemon. Here we have a problem. Undercooked cod carry the cod worm. Yech!
And now, how about the regal halibut. Even if it's "washed" in hot oil, but not thoroughly cooked, all the bacteria isn't killed. Since Atlantic halibut are disappearing quickly, you shouldn't be eating them anyway. Save the halibut!
Many professional chefs consider it an insult not to consume the raw or undercooked seafood from their establishments. That's a little over the top, I think. While some may insist that the acids from lemon or lime juices may kill most things, the key word here is "most." Citrus juices don't kill all those little nasties. And believe it or not, most restaurant goers who've become sick from consuming this type of seafood don't report their illness to the health department.
nother danger is all the amateur chefs who've just seen a cooking show on TV or read a food magazine article, and who try to copy these recipes only to spoil dinner for the family or a dinner party for many. The risk is usually greater for home chefs because the product they buy at the local grocery store tends to be older than what a restaurant would purchase, and therefore more prone to harbor bacteria.
So it's very important to take precautions with your seafood, whether you're ordering out or dining in. Instead of ordering it raw or slightly seared, you should order it thoroughly cooked, like you would pork. Better be safe than sorry, I say. You'll still have the die-hards who insist they eat it raw. They should at least be aware of the consequences, and some of those consequences aren't pretty.
There, I hope I didn't scare you too much, but I thought you should know.
Rick Moore is a personal trainer certified by American Fitness Professionals & Associates. Visit his club, Rick's Fitness & Health, in Milton, Delaware or www.ricksfitness.net, or call 302-684-3669.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 11, No. 3, Apr. 6, 2001