In this post, I would like to tell you a story, a sad one. It’s a story about a relationship: a passionate, compulsive, extreme one. A relationship that was exceptional, unique and a little bit obsessive. Occasionally, it had been irrational and ridiculous. Regularly, it had been outstanding, bright and exclusive. Certain days, I took it for granted, while others I was very devoted and loyal. Sometimes, I felt as if I could not live without it and, other times, I could not stand it anymore. A relationship that now has become even a little bit dangerous and unhealthy. What am I talking about? Don’t worry I haven’t become a stalker (or not yet!) Let me explain: I have a love affair with sushi, sashimi, tartare and with all variations of raw fish.
I still remember the first time I met it (ate it) and, as it happens in many real love stories, it was not love at first sight! However, I gave it another chance and started to like it, until when, I irrationally madly fell in love with it. It was like an epiphany. Then, it’s history and it’s still as if I had always eaten it, as if sushi was made for me, as if, instead of being Italian, I were Japanese.
As I said, this relationship became a little bit unhealthy when an unexpected problem came up. The name is Anisakis (Anisakiasis), a small parasite. Discovered in the 60s in the Netherlands, Japan and the Pacific coast of South America, these little worms have now spread all over the world and the seas.
Unfortunately, it is possible to find this parasite in raw fish if this is not prepared and conserved properly. Indeed, the only way to eliminate the Anisakis is to refrigerate the raw fish for at least 24 hours at -20° C. Another way of killing the parasite is to cook the raw fish at 60° C for at least 1 minute. If buyers, sellers, and consumers follow these standards the risk of contamination decrease drastically.
Fortunately, these worms are visible to human eyes: they look like thin, short (from 1 to 3 cm) white hair. Are you wandering if the sushi you ate at lunch had them? These are the symptoms you would have: nausea, abdominal pain, fever, diarrhea and vomiting. In the more serious cases, if the worms go through the intestine or colon, they might even cause a severe immune granulomatous reaction (originate a mass) that needs to be removed by surgery.
If you like raw fish, I know how you feel. Shock and astonishment do not fully describe our feelings. However, this does not mean that we have to stop eating raw fish, but only that we have to be more careful and aware of where we buy and eat it!
Purchase frozen fish, go only to the restaurants you trust and where it’s stated, on the menu, that all raw fish has been treated at -20° C for at least 24 hours. In Europe, there is a specific law, Reg. CE 853/2004, which defines the procedures to follow in handling, conserving and selling raw products. If you are interested in knowing the American regulation, this is the link of the FDA guideline.
The species more affected are: anchovies, sardines, herrings, mackerels, cods, plaices, haddocks, flukes, pacific salmons, squids, flounders and monkfishes. The Anisakis can be also found in fish undercooked, marinated, pickled, cold-smoked (where the temperature does not exceed 60° C), and braised. This parasite resists to acids (lemon and vinegar) and salt.
Read the labels, take a look at the menu and ask questions! We all have the right to know if the raw fish we consume had been properly prepared and stored.
However, even if I pay attention to all these preventing measures before eating my raw fish, this is a gloomy phase of my life. Naively, I thought I would have been stronger. I thought I would have resisted. I thought I would not have changed my mind and nobody would have influenced me. I thought it could be mine forever. Now, I know that this is the end of a love affair…a regrettably exceptional good and tasty one!