How to Eat Spicy Tuna Safely
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the spicy tuna debacle. But just in case, here’s a quick summary: A major 19+ state Salmonella Bareilly outbreak has diners and health experts concerned about the safety of one of America’s most popular sushi items. And for good reason. This current salmonella outbreak can cause symptoms of diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours of infection and may endure for 4 to 7 days. A major supplier of frozen Nakaochi Scrape has recalled some 58,000 pounds of a frozen yellowfin tuna. And the FDA is now urging diners to avoid ordering spicy tuna and other products that contain the infamous “pink tuna slime”.
While there is no way to avoid all of the risks of eating uncooked seafood, there are certainly ways to minimize them. You certainly don’t have to give up spicy tuna completely. Just keep these points in mind before contemplating that next spicy bite:
1. What are the origins of this tuna?
This is the most fundamental question of all. Don’t even consider placing a piece of ANY raw seafood in your mouth before you have asked this question and received a satisfactory answer. It seems basic, but make sure you place an emphasis on THIS tuna if you want to order something that may contain chopped tuna. Like it or not, many sushi restaurants will use a lower grade tuna for spicy tuna than the pristine specimens displayed in the case. When asked simply, “Where does your tuna come from?” you will get answers regarding the displayed tuna. But a better question is to point at the pretty tuna and ask “Do you use this tuna to make your spicy tuna?” If the answer is no, ask to see what the spicy tuna tuna looks like. A reputable sushi restaurant and honest chefs have nothing to hide.
2. Consider the price of your spicy tuna roll.
There is a reason why grocery store, cafeteria, buffets and quick-go sushi products are inexpensive. The infamous Nakaochi Scrape “aka the pink tuna slime” is an inexpensive product. And guess what?
Every sushi restaurant in America that orders from large suppliers has access to similar pre-packaged, frozen, pre-scraped, color enhanced tuna. Be assured that the profit margin from this product tempts the majority of them. (I personally have been asked many times in the past by bottom line oriented owners to consider using such products. There was nothing to consider. The answer was always no.) It’s cheap, it doesn’t change colors (ever wonder why some spicy tuna rolls are pink?), and you can literally dump it out of a bag and into a bowl for mixing. And it is marketed quite attractively as being a virtually waste-free product. In short, it is gross and flavorless. You as the consumer absolutely must demand a higher standard. And you as the consumer must be willing to pay for it.
3. Take matters into your own hands.
Skip the sushi bar altogether and look to reputable fish markets. You can order high quality tuna from a great company like i love blue sea and make spicy tuna that tastes better than your corner market or restaurant with flopping standards. You’ll excuse me if I seem to take offense at what is being passed along as spicy tuna. I’ve always felt spicy tuna to be an elegant tartar, so flavorful and tempting, that one should have to exercise extreme willpower to willingly mask it inside of a sushi roll. If spicy tuna does not begin in this manner with the backdrop of the highest quality yellow fin and/or albacore tuna, it does not belong inside a sushi roll and most importantly, not in your mouth.
Final food for thought – Now that the tuna scrape incident has sushi lovers’ attention, will this curiosity expand? Will we consider the implications of what each bite of seafood, raw or cooked, has on our overall health? The overall health of our planet? It is unfortunate that people had experience such horrific symptoms before we started paying attention. Let’s not wait until it happens again before we begin digging deeper and considering the origins our seafood.