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The dangers of eating raw fish

The dangers of eating raw fish

The dangers of eating raw fish

Sushi may be delicious – but it can be life-threatening if it’s not prepared properly.

Raw fish, such as sushi, and other uncooked seafood may be delicious, but they also may be dangerous – even life-threatening – if prepared inexpertly.

New Zealand has one of the worst records for food poisoning in the developed world, according to the World Health Organisation. Some 500 New Zealanders get food poisoning every day and it’s a serious risk if you’re sick, pregnant, very young or elderly.

While our most common problem is campylobacter – the country has been called “the campylobacter capital of the world”, largely attributed to poultry – our fondness for kaimoana cannot be overlooked.

The growing popularity of sushi and other raw or undercooked fish and seafood dishes in Western countries has led to an increase in illness caused by anisakid nematodes (worms), according to a study published in BMJ Case Reports.

Anisakiasis results from eating fish or seafood contaminated with that parasite. When the worms invade the stomach wall or intestines, the result is gastrointestinal pain, nausea and vomiting. Some people develop digestive bleeding, bowel obstruction or peritonitis (inflammation of the inner wall of the abdomen).

Other people may experience an allergic reaction, including swelling, skin rash or anaphylaxis, which can cause breathing difficulties and loss of consciousness. Anisakiasis is most common in Japan, where sushi is king. Japan sees roughly 3000 cases annually.

In recent years, other parts of the globe – including New Zealand – have begun to see a rise in anisakiasis. Raw fish or even fish that has been undercooked may also harbour the most common food-poisoning bacteria, salmonella.

Although raw or undercooked fish is less likely to cause a salmonella infection than other foods, including chicken and beef, it still may carry these bacteria. Symptoms of diarrhoea, fever and abdominal cramps usually develop within 72 hours after infection, and illness generally lasts four to seven days.

Though most people recover from a salmonella infection without treatment, some patients experience such severe diarrhoea that they need to be hospitalised. When grilling, boiling or cooking seafood, an internal temperature of at least 63 degrees Celsius needs to be reached to kill anything dangerous lurking beneath the skin.

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