How The Japanese Make Sashimi Safe To Eat

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Have you ever wondered how the Japanese prepare sashimi to make it safe to eat?

Sashimi (means pierced body) is a very popular dish in Japan. This dish consists of thinly sliced raw fish served on ice with garnishes such as seaweed, daikon radish, red water pepper sprouts, and herbs. Often times, soy sauce is used as dipping sauce. While it is true that fish (usually tuna or salmon) and seafood are more synonymous with sashimi (actually refers to any type of meat)other meat is sometimes used. For that authentic Japanese sashimi experience, people often go to Japan. But because of a large Japanese cuisine following, sashimi restaurants can also be located in other parts of the world such as Canada, United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Brazil.


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As with any other food served and eaten raw, sashimi is not risk-free; it may result in foodborne illness, especially if prepared improperly. And this is what most individuals wonder to themselves before trying this Japanese dish. But food poisoning seems like it is not the case. How do the Japanese exactly prepare sashimi ?

SASHIMI-GRADE

When it comes to sashimi, everything has to be done with utmost care—from harvest to serving. And it is not just any fish, but one that is so-called ‘sashimi-grade’. Sashimi-grade refers to any fish that is the freshest, of the highest quality, and more importantly, safe to eat raw. But do note that the term sashimi-grade is not an official term; purely for marketing purposes only. Hence, no governing body regulates it. But one thing is sure though— sashimi -grade is fish that has been frozen to at least –4ºF (–20ºC) or below before being sold. Hence, it helps indicate that the fish is safe to consume raw.

HOW FISH FOR SASHIMI IS PREPARED

Fish for sashimi are line caught. To slow quality degradation down and preserve them, they are immediately killed by Ikejime (活け締め)Ikejime is a Japanese way of preparing fish in which a spike is inserted quickly into the hindbrain, causing a quick death and minimizing stressIkejime ensures the preservation of flavor and texture by minimizing the effects of biochemical reactions, such as the buildup of adrenaline and lactic acid that degrade the quality of the fish. Plus, the aging that takes place makes the umami taste more pronounced.

Afterwards, the fish are placed in ice or frozen to prevent the growth of bacteria. A much bigger problem when it comes sashimi, sushi, and other seafood eaten raw are parasites, particularly round worms, which too, can be eliminated by low temperature. These parasites consume the flesh of fish. They usually are in the belly flaps or the gut. If ingested, they burrow in our intestine. As a result, symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and other discomforts may be experienced.

While sashimi-grade does not actually have any guidelines or standards, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has in place some regulations on proper handling and preparation of fish meant for consuming raw. The below guidelines, if religiously followed, ensure the destruction of parasites.

Freezing at an ambient temperature of -4°F (-20°C) or lower for a total of 7 days
Storing and freezing at an ambient temperature of -31°F (-35°C) or lower until solid and subsequent storing at an ambient temperature of -31°F (-35°C)
Freezing at an ambient temperature of -31°F (-35°C) or below until solid and subsequent storing at an ambient temperature of -4°F (-20°C) or lower for24 hours

COMMON SASHIMI-GRADE FISH

In Japan, the most common fish for sashimi are tuna, salmon, yellowtail, mollusks like abalone, clams, and scallops, and other seafoods like squid. Ideally, the species of fish must be those that dwell in cold, deep water, or in areas away from fish parasites.

Tuna is considered to be one of the few species of fish that is safe enough to consume raw, even with minimal processing. This is because tuna is highly resistant to parasites. This includes bigeye, bonito, yellowfin tuna, albacore, bluefin, and skipjack.

Sashimi restaurants are very meticulous at all times, from selecting only the highest quality fish to maintaining hygiene. This ensures that the food being served to consumers is extremely safe. If you want to enjoy sashimi at home, you will have to be extra careful.

When selecting fish, ensure that the vendor knows anything sashimi. Do they know the term sashimi -grade? Is the fish kept at low temperature? Do they know how or where the fish was sourced? On your part, check the state of the fish. Look for all signs of freshness. Generally, it should smell fresh like seawater, have red gills, firm flesh, bright and intact scales, and shiny bright eyes. You can refer to this guide: These 5 Signs Will Tell You If Fish Is Fresh.

When opting for salmon, always go for farmed salmon. Wild salmon tends to be infested more by parasites since they live most of the time in fresh water.

Sashimi-grade fish has to stay in a low temperature environment, even on your way home so pack it in ice. Remember that eating raw fish will always have risks.

WHICH FISH ARE NOT SAFE TO EAT RAW?

Not all species of fish are safe to be eaten raw. The main problem with raw fish is bacterial and parasitic contamination.

According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), parasitic round worms that are found in the digestive tract and flesh of fish affect only a portion of species of fish. Cod, herring and mackerel are among those more prone to worm infestation.

The cod worm (Phocanema decipiens) can grow up to 4 cm long. It is often  curled up in the flesh, usually in the belly flaps, of cod and other species of fish.

The herring worm (Anisakis simplex) is usually found in herring, whiting, mackerel and other species. It can grow up to 2 cm long and is usually found tightly coiled in the belly flaps and the gut. The problem with herring worm is that it is colorless, so it may not be easily observed. When the fish is left ungutted after capture, it may migrate from the gut to the flesh.

Generally, larger fish of the same species are more infested by round worms. The reason for this is that they tend to eat more, and therefore intake more parasites. Furthermore, as the fish grow older, the number of larval worms increases. The case for wild fish is even worst as almost every kind is infested by parasites.

For these reasons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), advices to refrain from eating raw or undercooked fish and seafood. Parasites such as round worms do not pose any health risk in a thoroughly cooked fish. Anisakis and Phocanema larvae are easily destroyed by cooking at a temperature of at least 140 °F (60°C) for 1 minute.

Published by RenSun Lee

Kia ora! Sustainability is at the core of my soul ever since I was a kid. I always strive to finish the food on my plate and live as a minimalist. I love to cut down on waste in order to live sustainably and harmoniously with our planet. This brings me to my passion as a Food Scientist to integrate new technologies into innovative and creative solutions to meet customer demands and market trends and to optimize products and processes for quality, savings and sustainability. To these goals, I have published a Journal on my work on sustainable packaging and patented a new Antimicrobial wash. Nothing is more satisfying than working hard and smart at the workplace and playing hard outside of working hours. I enjoy rejuvenating myself through spending quality time with my two adorable kids and my awesome soul mate and getting close to nature when possible, be it gardening, tramping or going to the beach. I also love to learn about our magnificent universe and how sustainability is working in the grand scheme of things. I strongly believe that Work, Life & Balance is the key to a healthy state of mind, both physically and mentally. I look forward to making a positive difference wherever and whenever I can. Through this Blog, I hope to catalog recent Food Trends and Food Technologies that I come across so that anyone who is interested can have access to it (articles and resources). Please use these resources at your discretion. On top of that, I would also like to share related news and technologies of the future that would help mankind advance towards a Type 1 Civilization. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to share and contribute to the “Resources“. I would like to thank you in advance for dropping by. I sincerely hope that you can benefit from the recent Food Trends and Food Technologies I catalogued. Kind regards | Ngā mihi RenSun Lee

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