It is a point to ponder as to why we eat sushi with raw fish without any fear of parasitic infections or instinctive hesitation, whereas if it were red meat, it would be a completely different story. A lot of us make the assumption that raw sushi fish is safe, but how much do we really know about the fish used in sushi?

For many people, the risk of tapeworms is a huge concern when it comes to eating raw meat.

What exactly is a tapeworm and how do people get it?

A tapeworm is a tapered parasitic organism that can grow up to several feet inside your intestines.

Animals contract a tapeworm infection by grazing or drinking water containing tapeworm eggs or larvae (larvae is an immature stage in the life cycle of tape worms). Larvae can stay and grow in the muscles of animals such as pigs, cows and fish. That is why eating undercooked or raw meat of an infected animal can cause the infection to spread to the person eating it.

Another way that the tapeworm travels is through bowel movements. If someone with a tapeworm doesn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom and prepares your food with dirty hands, the parasite could transfer from their feces to your food. Luckily, public food services take the measures required to make sure that the food you eat is hygienically prepared; this form of infection is very rare.

In fact, the tapeworm parasite itself is a rare one to catch. Only about 1000 people in the USA are infected with the tapeworm every year. For many people, the tapeworm goes away by itself after just a few mild symptoms. For others, it could cause severe or even life-threatening symptoms.

Should you worry about tapeworms when eating sushi?

So, the question holds: is eating sushi with raw fish safe?

Raw sushi is actually called sashimi and most commonly uses raw tuna or salmon. For either of these fish options, the meat should be safe if the following measures are taken:

  1. The chef or cook washed their hands before preparing the sushi and the worktop is sanitized. Most public restaurants should have these safety measures already in place.
  2. The tuna or salmon was freeze-treated. This means that it was either blast frozen at -40 degrees Celsius for half a day or at -20 degrees Celsius for at least a week. This kills any parasite that could possibly infect you.
  3. The fish was cut thinly and with great focus. Tapeworm larvae are not microorganism and can be detected with the human eye. During the cutting process, if any tapeworm larvae are present, the chef should be able to spot it and remove it.

With all these measures, it is extremely rare to get tapeworm from sashimi but is still possible, which is why precaution is always recommended.

If you eat sashimi regularly, it is a good idea to get checked up just in case (better safe than sorry) if you have experienced symptoms such as nausea, stomach pains, weakness and fatigue, loss of appetite or excessive hunger. If you are found to carry a tapeworm, it is easily treatable with anti-parasitic medications.

This article was brought to you by WestAustralianOctopus.  If you are pregnant or are suffering from other illnesses that weaken the immunity system, it is best to avoid eating raw meat.