Friday, September 5, 2008

Is Sushi Safe to Eat?

A Chicago man made the papers last month for suing a restaurant that allegedly served him a parasitic tapeworm along with his undercooked salmon. So what about the sushi or sashimi that hungry buyers pick up to go during the lunch hour rush?

Sushi lovers need not fret about the raw fish they consume, food scientists say, as long as the sushi has been prepared properly according to regulations by the Food and Drug Administration. People preparing sushi themselves need to take extra care with both the raw fish and the rice.

The usual suspects

Raw fish poses several potential hazards for consumers besides parasites. Bacteria can develop in non-fresh fish and produce enzymes called histamines that may result in Scombroid poisoning. Certain tropical-water fish may also have a natural toxin called ciguatera which causes gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms.

Sushi eaters don't typically have to worry because sushi restaurants take certain steps in handling and preparing their fish. A required step involves freezing fish at temperatures of -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius) for seven days, or frozen at -31 degrees Fahrenheit (-35 degrees Celsius) for 15 hours, which kills any parasites.

"As far as sushi goes, the rules are in place because people were getting sick," said Keith Schneider, a microbiologist and food safety expert at the University of Florida. "The parasites are why we do the freezing on the raw fish."

The cases of sushi-related illness fall far below the number of people sickened by contaminated produce such jalapeno peppers. Even in those rare cases, the rice in sushi is more often the culprit than the fish.

"I got sick eating sushi at a place I go to occasionally – a fast food place, not a restaurant – and I could swear I came out with bacillus cereus," Schneider told LiveScience.

The bacillus cereus bacteria can spread rapidly in rice that sits at room temperature. Sushi rice requires an acidic bath in a vinegary solution that lowers the PH to 4.1, killing troublemaking microbes and making sushi safer for the everyday foodie.

Don't walk on the wild side

Many sushi lovers feast contentedly on albacore or eel, but a few people aim for a more dangerous culinary experience by eating the raw flesh of a poisonous puffer fish called fugu.

Master fugu chefs sometimes include some of the poison in their prepared dish, which creates a tingly feeling on the lips when eaten. However, improperly prepared fugu can kill due to the fish's potent neurotoxin.

"I consider it more of a dare than a delicacy," Schneider said. "There are people who kill themselves every year trying to make fugu, and it gives sushi a bad name."

As for trying to make sushi with raw meat other than fish, best perish the thought.

"Raw chicken, raw beef has probably much greater risk," Schneider said, pointing to bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella that can sicken thousands each year in the United States. "There are reasons you don't have chicken sushi."

Expert tips for happy sushi eating

  • The best bet for a good meal involves going to a restaurant or grabbing a sushi container from the local supermarket.
  • If you absolutely want to prepare your own sushi, buy sushi-grade fish that has been frozen per FDA regulations.
  • Eat your sushi as soon as possible, and do not let it sit in the fridge for more than 24 hours.

No food is completely without risk, but smart consumers can eat sensibly and enjoy – as long as fish are around.

Sept. 4, 1957: Short, Unhappy Life of the Edsel

In an industry celebrated for its spectacular failures, the Edsel still takes the cake. Although as mechanically sound as other Ford products, the car was criticized from Day One for being too ugly, too expensive and vastly overhyped.

The 1958 Edsel was intended to be an intermediate-level brand, bridging the gap between the cheaper Fords and pricier Mercurys and Lincolns. The most-affordable Edsel (the Ranger) cost 70 bucks less than Ford's top-end Fairlane, while the most-expensive model (the Citation) cost more than a Mercury Montclair.

In the post-mortem that followed the Edsel's early demise, the faulty pricing structure was cited by Ford as a big reason the car failed. Sales weren't helped, either, by the fact that it rolled out of the plant at the beginning of a recession. But there was more.

The Edsel -- named for Edsel Ford, Henry Ford's son who died of cancer in 1943 -- was the subject of an intense marketing blitz while still on the drawing board. The company promised an eager public something revolutionary, carefully baited the hook, and then failed to deliver. The Edsel was just another sedan on the basic Ford chassis.

Well, maybe not just another sedan. The classic barfly standard that everyone is good looking at closing time isn't true in this case. The Edsel was butt-ugly, period. A half century later, it's still butt-ugly.

Almost immediately after E-day, the superhype that had generated so much anticipation boomeranged on Ford. Automotive writers roundly trashed the Edsel, going so far as to compare the oval-shaped vertical grille to the female sex organ -- racy stuff for 1957.

Henry Ford II, who had opposed naming the car after his late father, believing it to be undignified, was no doubt furious and mortified. Robert McNamara, soon to become U.S. secretary of defense in the Kennedy administration, was president of the Ford Motor Company at the time and realized instantly he had a lemon on his hands. (A few years later, he'd be a little slower to realize that he had even a bigger lemon on his hands in a place called Vietnam.)

During the Edsel's first year, 1958, four models were produced and barely more than 63,000 were sold in the United States. Sales dropped in 1959, even though Ford had cut back to just two models, and on Nov. 19, 1959, barely two years after E-day, the company threw in the towel on the Edsel.

In one of those little logic-defying ironies, the Edsel today is a prized collector's item, fetching as much as $200,000 for a rare 1960 convertible.

Another victim of this historic automotive fiasco was the name Edsel itself. Although never a particularly popular boy's name -- rising to 400th on the 1927 list -- Edsel (from the Old German Adal, meaning "noble") has almost entirely vanished.