Is it really safe?

Four years ago, when my family began ordering steaks instead of our usual fajitas at Chilis, my father and I always went for “well-done.” Since my parents are immigrants from China and unaccustomed to eating undercooked red meat, they wanted the steaks fully cooked to prevent ingesting bacteria. I, not knowing much either, followed suit, ordering all my steaks “well-done.” Today, I wouldn’t even call that a steak.

It was by the eleventh well-done steak that I finally began to question myself: was “well-done” the ONLY safe way to go? Over the next year, I continued to knock down the doneness of a steak from medium-well to medium, to medium-rare, much to the chagrin of my parents. However, by the time I hit medium-rare, I was no longer worried about getting sick. Nor had I ever gotten sick from eating steak. Here’s why.

When we cut into a bloody steak and all the juices roll out, some will no doubt jump back in disgust upon seeing the raw meat inside. But what we may not notice is the fact that the outer edge of the steak has been cooked. That is what’s important. What is a steak? A slab of meat. The bacteria are only introduced to this slab of meat on the outside, meaning as long as the surface of the steak is cooked, it will be safe to eat no matter how raw the inside is.

This is the reason why hamburger meats – ground beef, pork, veal, or lamb – must be fully cooked. The process of grounding has a high possibility of introducing bacteria into the center of the hamburger meat. Ground meat is recommended to reach at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit internally, or the doneness of medium, to be considered safe. A steak, on the other hand, only needs to reach a temperature that allows the exterior to be cooked, about 145 degrees Fahrenheit or at the doneness of medium-rare, before being considered safe.

Recently, I had a rare steak, defined as having a “cool, red inside.” Had I ordered that a few years ago, I would have scared the life out of my parents. I was greeted with a thick Filet Mignon that looked brown and charred on the outside. After cutting into its plum-colored inside, I licked my lips and dove in. I ended the night with nothing more than a full stomach and delight from having conquered the feat.

In 2004, scientists at the University of Nottingham conducted a research to test if rare steak really was safe to eat. To perform the test, scientists took steak samples and spiked them with E.coli bacteria, which were known to die at high temperatures. Then they cooked the steaks to a doneness of rare. The first time, they found out that there was still bacteria present in the samples, but that they had been reintroduced through the tongs used to turn the steaks.

The experiment was performed again with sterilized tongs. On this attempt, no bacteria was detected on the steak, confirming that rare steak can indeed be considered safe as long as bacteria are not reintroduced through contaminated utensils. The experiment also supported the fact that whole cuts of meat, such as a steak, only have bacteria on the exterior. These bacteria are killed during cooking, even if the inside of the steak is still rare.

Thus, the safety of a rare steak arguably has more to do with the utensils than it does with the meat.

Although I have no fears about eating a rare steak today, I’m not sure if I would do it again. Personally, I found a nice, tender, medium-rare cut to have more flavor and juice than a full on rare. My parents still won’t order either of those levels of doneness no matter how much I try to persuade them; I’ve learned to give up trying to. The choice is up to them after all.

But the bottom line is, from rare to well-done, you should find which one offers the most flavor and juiciness to satisfy your desires and not worry about the consequences of having a little red in your meat.

Citation:

“Rare Steak ‘is Safe to Eat'” BBC News. BBC, 2004. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

Newgent, Jackie. “Can Rare Meat Be Safe?” Www.eatright.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

 

imageMe eating a rare steak.

 

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A Meal Gone Bad…Almost

 

Recently, I went to a Sushi restaurant and had myself a bowl of chirashi, a medley of sushi rice and raw fish. Like usual, I thought nothing of the meat and ate it without worry. Soon afterwards however, I began to feel a little…weird. My stomach felt very stiff and my voice tensed up; I felt like I had to puke.

Fortunately, the discomfort passed within an hour or two without any trips to the restroom, or the sink. I didn’t finish my meal and left feeling a little beat. It was no surprise that for a moment sometime in that episode, I had worried if I had seriously contracted something bad in the fish. Or the rice. Maybe something wasn’t fresh or was frozen at the improper temperature. I wouldn’t have had a clue.

In the United States, strict standards for consuming raw seafood has rendered almost all sushi safe. Of the over 20,000 cases of infection with seafood-associated parasites which occur worldwide, over ninety percent of them occur in Japan. Other cases have been reported in areas of coastal Europe. About 60 or so cases of Anisakiasis, infection through the ingestion of the parasite Anisakis simplex, occur in the United States, though this number is likely underreported due to undiagnosed cases.

Anisakid-infected marine life exists in all major oceans and are quite prevalent, especially in United States wild salmon. The source of human infection varies depending on the culinary culture of the country. For example, high risk dishes would be “smoked herring in the Netherlands, Scandinavian gravlax, Hawaiian lomi-lomi (raw salmon), Souther American ceviche, and pickled anchovies and raw sardines in Spain.” Different dishes are more likely to lead to infection depending on the country.

Infection symptoms are very similar to that of appendicitis. Often times however, gastric anisakidosis (infection) can be misdiagnosed as some form of peptic ulcer disease or “vanishing gastric tumor.” Since the worm is so small, it can be hard to spot and diagnose properly. Endoscopic extraction is the preferred treatment for such an infection. Delayed removal may end up giving enough time for the larvae to embed itself into the sub-mucosa, and surgical removal is occasionally required.

The best way to prevent against an anisakid infection is of course to throughly cook the fish to temperatures of above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Smoking is not effective if adequate temperatures are not reached. Another common way of eating raw seafood especially in Asian countries is salting fish. Such a process does kill the anisakid larvae, but the salt concentrations must be high for a prolonged period of time. All fish intended to be consumed raw are required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be flash frozen at -4 degrees fahrenheit for seven days. Fish are also gutted quickly upon catch to prevent or decrease the number of larvae from migrating to the flesh and edible parts from the intestinal tract.

While the dangers of infection are out there, the chances of becoming infected are still low, especially in the states. Whatever sickness I got that day ended up being nothing too major, despite the adrenaline rush through my head when I thought of the possibility of Anisakid infection.
Citation: Hochberg, Natasha S., and Davidson H. Hamer. “Anisakidosis: Perils of the Deep.” Clinical Infectious Diseases 51.7 (2010): 806-12. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.

Raw-Foodism

When we think of the term “raw food” today, what comes to mind?

As a seafood-enthusiast, when I hear the term “raw food,” I picture sushi, or some variation of uncooked shellfish. I remember all the warnings on the side of the menu at every restaurant cautioning customers about the risks of eating raw. I even think back to a few times my stomach had felt a little uncomfortable after consumption. That was not fun. Others may think of raw food as raw meats. A rare steak or steak tartare may come to mind.

But are those the only foods that encompass the term “raw foods?” Surely not. What about salads? What about watermelon rinds? Fruits? Vegetables? A vegan diet?

Many have tried to define the term “raw food,” going as far as forming an ideology of raw-foodism. Gayle Forman writes in her piece The Raw Deal “On a warm May Evening…members of a raw-foods support group are hotly debating watermelon rinds. ‘I like to eat them,’ asserts one fortyish woman…’I’ve heard that all the nutrients are in the rind…Paul Nison, raw-foods chef…isn’t buying into the rind argument…’you should only eat things that would be appetizing to you as they’ve found in nature’” (Forman, 75).

Forman describes the conversation continuing onwards until the group begins to discuss watermelon seeds as well. Are they “tasty and edible?” Or are they “icky” and meant to be “spat out?”

Forman defines the ideology of raw-foodism as that of a vegan diet. She says raw-foodism is a “diet in which food is not heated above 116 degrees-that means no bread, no tofu, no steamed broccoli, although dehydrated fruits, tahini, and nuts are acceptable” (Forman, 75). The reasoning behind it is that heating food kills enzymes and vitamins inside the food.

Although such a diet may seem odd, Suzanne Havala, a dietitian for the Vegetarian Resource Group says this type of diet was the “natural diet for primates.” In other words, when balanced, it can be very healthy.

One of the motivations for a raw-foodism diet is the idea of “natural hygiene” which is that one should eat food only as it would be found “appealing” in nature, excluding rinds and raw onions. The uncooked diet is what is known as the original human diet. Statistically, Raw-foodists comprise about two percent of Americans who are vegetarians, according to Forman. The movement is also the biggest in California, and has spread to even the most metropolitan of areas such as New York.

Such a group of foodists are interesting to dissect. Their values may seem very unorthodox, yet much in the same way that vegetarians have learned to eat healthily, raw-foodists have as well. They enjoy the “solitude of the journey” as Forman dubs it (76). “I don’t know that I’ve ever even seen a group of restaurant-obsessed Manhattan foodies wax as ecstatic about a meal as the raw folks were over their beloved durian,” she says (76).

I was pleasantly surprised with reading Forman’s article about the raw-foodist groups in Manhattan as she reminded me about the broader definition of “raw food.” Beforehand, I had never considered the fact that vegetarians had their own style and idea of what constituted “raw food.” In addition, as the only one who had any interest in raw meats, I had always thought myself a know-it-all when it came to raw foods. Forman’s article illuminated the fact that even apples, pineapples, vegetables, leafy greens, everything healthy and totally-unrelated to “meats” could also be considered “raw.”

At the end of the day, the term “raw-foods” encompasses more debate and discussion than it may appear to do so at first. The next time I head out to my favorite Sushi joint or steakhouse, I will keep in mind that there is more to raw food than just a salmon roll or rare tenderloin.
Citation: Forman, Gayle. “The Raw Deal.” Gastronomica 2.2 (2002): 75-76. Web.

The A-Word

Let’s be honest, everyone feels at least a little uneasy on their first time trying sushi. More specifically, raw sushi.

While some forms of sushi don’t contain any raw fish, many others contain uncooked tuna, salmon, or yellowtail meat. While rare, the chances of contacting a food borne illness is always a possibility with raw fish.

I still remember when I watched Monsters Inside Me, a show on the Animal Planet channel detailing accounts of when different parasites got inside a human’s body and caused severe illnesses. While many episodes did nothing more than intrigue me, one episode stood out: in it, a woman suffered a severe parasite infection from eating a plate of sushi. Unfortunately, that scared me.

I have always been a sushi-lover. Growing up in a family of seafood-enthusiasts, I have relished in fish, crab, shellfish, and even the occasional exotic dish such as shark-fin soup, for as long as I can remember. Unlike my parents however, I also preferred seafood raw. Sushi satisfied that desire.

The show I watched that day dealt with a certain parasite – Anisakis simplex – or more correctly, a nematode (a worm). Its life cycle revolves around fish and marine animals, starting off with a seal. Eugene Kaplan explains in his work It Hardly Ever Happens, “the seal’s feces contain hundreds of tiny glassy-shelled eggs. They are ingested by various microscopic filter-feeders like our ubiquitous copepods. These are eaten by small fishes, which are eaten by bigger fishes, and so on. By the time the next seal eats the biggest fish in the food chain, the number of worms in the fish’s body is magnified…the seal gets a mouthful of juvenile worms.” The life cycle of Anisakis simplex continues to repeat after that, revolving between seal and fish.

The life cycle of the nematode presents a challenge for raw-fish enthusiasts. When the nematode finds its way onto a plate of sushi, and subsequently, into a human’s stomach, it will cause trouble. Fortunately, most of the time, the parasites, even if ingested, will pass through the human body without causing harm. Rarely will juveniles penetrate the stomach or intestinal wall, causing a deadly infection known as anisakiasis, a condition leading to appendicitis-like pain, and sometimes even death.

While anisakiasis is rare, it does happen, even with all the precautions taken with sushi-grade fish. Sushi-grade fish are treated differently from the raw fish sitting on ice one may find at the supermarket. Wild-catches are immediately gutted and flash-frozen to prevent bacteria from migrating into the meat if the fish is meant to be consumed raw. However, this along with other methods, are not enough to 100% ensure parasite-free meat.

Luckily, the chances are only 1:128,000 for contracting a serious infection.

Anisakiasis is frightening, but it has not been enough to curb my interest in seafood. Certainly, it is something that passes through my mind each time I take a bite at my favorite sushi restaurant. But is it really something to worry about it? In my opinion, not at all.

So go out and enjoy sushi, and stop worrying about the “what if.” You’ll enjoy life more.

 

Citation: Kaplan, Eugene H. “It Hardly Ever Happens.” What’s Eating You? Princeton: Princeton UP, 2010. 75-81. Print.

imagesAnisakis simplex

 

Fugu Fever

It was at a restaurant on the shores of the West Lake in Hangzhou, China, a hot steamy room, where a bowl of brown soup was brought before me. I could make out the shape of a fish head amidst the liquid. Being the seafood-enthusiast I am, I dipped my spoon in and tasted the soup without a second thought. It was delicious.

Only later did I realize what fish I had just eaten – pufferfish.

Those well-versed in the medium of raw seafood delicacies understand that pufferfish holds a certain stigma to it. Pufferfish, or Fugu as they call it in Japan, is the most dangerous fish to eat in the world due to the tetrodotoxin it carries in its intestines, ovaries, and liver. It is said a single fish contains enough poison to kill at least thirty people. If prepared improperly, ingestion of the even a drop of the poison can kill the consumer before he or she leaves the dinner table.

The good news: I did not die that day.

I learned from my uncle who invited me to dinner that the pufferfish in that particular restaurant were all bought from a company that raises the species in a way that the farmed fish no longer produces the poison inside them. At first, that sounded like a sweet deal to me – no poison, less danger, and the same exotic taste!

Fugu, in many parts of Japan, are raised to be poison-free with advancements in technology today. While the soup I tasted was served with cooked fish, raw Fugu is a delicacy in Japan. Some restaurants are known to specifically serve Fugu. Licensed chefs must undergo many years of training on how to prepare such a dish, and as a final test before they receive their license, they must prepare the dish and eat it themselves.

Recently, farm-raised poison-free Fugu liver is being served in many places across Japan. This has caused a disruption in the Fugu industry. Shimonoseki Fugu Association buys Fugu from Japan and China, removes the poison from the fish, and ships it throughout Japan and even out of the country. However, with the rise of farm-raised Fugu, the industry is facing greater competition.

“We won’t approve it,” Hisashi Matsumura, the president of the association said in response to the increasing rise of farmed Fugu. Although Shimonoseki Fugu Association still controls half of the Fugu traffic throughout the country, there is controversy over whether farm-raised Fugu using new technology should be allowed or not.

This battle has also raised questions about the dish. Removing poison from Fugu lowers the risk in eating it. If poison-free Fugu were true, would the dish garner the same romance and risk as before?

Raw cuisine, especially when it comes to meats and seafood, has always been known for the risk, having scared away many people because of it. Every time we see the little asterisk next to the name of a raw dish on the menu, we are reminded of the minuscule chance of food poisoning. It’s happened to me before, and for me, not having to deal with that threat would be great news. However, for others, it may be a turn off. Sometimes, Fugu in Japan is served with enough poison to leave a tingling feeling in the mouth of its consumer. For the danger of a dish to be removed, can it really be the same delicacy?

Problems that may seem simple on the outside never are. What seems like a solution – farm-raised, poison-free Fugu – has raised more controversy than we would have expected. Although personally, I think it’s a plus for raw-food enthusiasts.

Citation: Onishi, Norimitsu. “If the Fish Liver Can’t Kill, Is It Really a Delicacy?” The New York Times. N.p., 04 May 2008. Web. 13 Oct. 2016.Fugu

fugu_soup_by_theislandoffiji-d6t18vfBowl of pufferfish soup. Photo credit: IOst-amul3t