Preparing Raw Seafood Safely

Safe Seafood Preparation – What do I need to know?

A frequent cooking class guest of mine recently mentioned that she had never prepared ceviche or tuna tartar because she wasn’t certain about how to do it safely, what did she need to know? I thought that was a perfect opportunity to showcase as one of my Facebook Live shows and invited her in to cook with me while we discussed it.

Sashimi Grade – What does it mean?

The confusing part of the term “sashimi grade” is that “grade” suggests that an official body has inspected it for some sort of quality. WRONG! Unlike the United States Department of Agriculture which inspects meat for wholesomeness and then if processors opt in for the voluntary grading system, grades it based on quality (determined by fat marbling, age of carcass, color of lean meat, and other factors), there is no inspection or grading for seafood.

The term Sashimi grade is solely a marketing term used to suggest that it’s a higher quality for eating raw. In the United States, seafood used for raw preparations must always first be frozen to be considered safe from the concern of parasitic infection. The only seafood items considered safe to consume raw without prior freezing are tuna, farm-raised salmon, and scallops.

Tuna and farm-raised salmon are considered safe based solely on the fact that the number of parasitic infections as a result is so low compared to the amount consumed, they aren’t considered to be a general concern. Scallops are safe because we only consume the adductor muscle which is typically immediately removed from the shell before the likelihood of parasites making their way from the digestive tract to other tissue.

Fresh water fish should never be used for raw consumption due to susceptibility of tapeworms in freshwater fish. salmon goes between both saltwater and fresh water and thus is susceptible to parasites.

FDA Recommendations for Raw Fish Consumption

The United States Food & Drug Administration recommends the following guidelines from their food code for consumption of raw fish:

3-402.11 Parasite Destruction.
(A) Except as specified in ¶ (B) of this section, before service or
sale in READY-TO-EAT form, raw, raw-marinated, partially cooked, or
marinated-partially cooked FISH shall be:
(1) Frozen and stored at a temperature of -20°C (-4°F) or below
for a minimum of 168 hours (7 days) in a freezer; P
(2) Frozen at -35°C (-31°F) or below until solid and stored
at -35°C (-31°F) or below for a minimum of 15 hours; P or
(3) Frozen at -35°C (-31°F) or below until solid and stored
at -20°C (-4°F) or below for a minimum of 24 hours. P
(B) Paragraph (A) of this section does not apply to:
(2) A scallop product consisting only of the shucked adductor
(3) Tuna of the species Thunnus alalunga, Thunnus albacares
(Yellowfin tuna), Thunnus atlanticus, Thunnus maccoyii (Bluefin
tuna, Southern), Thunnus obesus (Bigeye tuna), or Thunnus
thynnus (Bluefin tuna, Northern); or

(4) Aquacultured FISH, such as salmon, that:
(a) If raised in open water, are raised in net-pens, or
(b) Are raised in land-based operations such as ponds or
tanks, and
(c) Are fed formulated feed, such as pellets, that contains no
live parasites infective to the aquacultured FISH.
(5) FISH eggs that have been removed from the skein and

Is Color of Tuna an Indication of Quality?

The color of gills when selecting whole fish can be used as an indication of freshness. When a fish is first caught the gills will be a bright red color because they’re full of oxygen. The longer the fish is out of water, the gills will eventually become a muddy brown. The same however does not hold true for color of flesh.

Many people mistakenly think that a bright pink or cherry red color of tuna indicates that it is fresh, the browner it is the less fresh. Freshly caught tuna will often have a deep blood red to chocolate color despite its freshness. The bright cherry red color is often found in frozen tuna and is the result of having been treated with smoke that has been filtered to remove any flavor (carbon monoxide). Carbon monoxide used in this manner is considered safe and is used to create and maintain the bright red color. While this treatment makes it visually more appealing, it’s important to note that it shouldn’t be equated with quality, nor should dark colored tuna be considered of a lesser quality. Even tuna that isn’t fresh can be turned bright red through the treatment of carbon monoxide.

What Precautions Should I take for Raw Seafood Preparations?

Now that we know that fresh isn’t always better and that color alone isn’t an indication of freshness, what should you focus on?

Use commercially frozen fish . Don’t buy fresh fish and freeze it yourself. Home freezers generally don’t freeze below zero degrees Fahrenheit which is needed to fully kill all parasites. Commercial blast freezers freeze the fish so quickly that large ice crystals are prevented thus preserving the natural texture of the fish and preventing damage to the flesh.

When selecting frozen fish, avoid packages that have ice crystals in or on them and make sure the fish is rock solid. Packages with ice crystals are an indication that at some point it began to thaw and then refreeze.

Keep the fish cold during preparation and serve cold. Thaw fish under refrigeration.

Don’t cut until ready to serve. Just as with meat, the greater the surface area the more surface there is exposed to oxygen and increasing the opportunity for bacterial growth.

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