Raw fish is a popular ingredient and dish in many countries. For example, sushi and sashimi are a staple in Japanese cuisine, while Poké, a salad made with chunks of seasoned raw fish mixed with vegetables is a favourite dish in Hawaii, United States. In Singapore, family and friends gather to celebrate the Lunar New Year by tossing yu sheng, a salad commonly consisting of raw fish and a variety of vegetables and condiments.
Raw fish intended for raw consumption are generally sold and marketed separately from other raw fish intended for cooking. As with the consumption of all raw food, there are some food safety risks in consuming ready-to-eat (RTE) raw fish.
What are the risks of consuming ready-to-eat raw fish?
RTE raw fish is considered a high-risk food as it does not go through a cooking process. Raw fish contains a higher germ count, which can increase if good hygiene practices are not observed during the preparation process, such as preparing the fish with dirty hands and using dirty utensils and cutting boards.
Besides microbiological contamination, the consumption of RTE raw fish also carries a risk of contracting parasitic diseases. An example is herring worm disease, which is caused by parasites or roundworms attaching to the wall of the stomach, intestine or esophagus. Roundworms can grow up to 3 cm long and are commonly found in marine fish. These roundworms are a main food source for marine fish.
How can we reduce food borne illnesses from eating RTE raw fish?
Through a joint responsibility approach to food safety, we can reduce the risk of food borne illness from eating RTE raw fish.
SFA's food safety monitoring programme is guided by a science-based risk assessment and management approach that is consistent with international standards. This means that food that is more susceptible to foodborne diseases is subjected to more stringent checks. Food, including raw fish, is tested for a wide range of foodborne hazards including microbial pathogens and presence of parasites.
The industry must also ensure that the fish they farm, produce and sell are safe for consumption. Importers should source RTE raw fish from suppliers that adopt proper cold chain management and hygienic handling practices of the fish. Suppliers and retail food establishments should also practise proper segregation of RTE raw fish from other raw food intended for cooking.
Consumers who choose to eat RTE raw fish must be aware of the risks involved. As a general precaution, vulnerable people with lower immunity system such pregnant women, children and the elderly, or people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, should avoid consuming raw fish altogether.
Should you choose to eat RTE raw fish, follow these tips to reduce the risk of food borne illness:
Photo: Eating RTE raw fish such as sashimi carries a food safety risk.
- Purchase RTE raw fish from licensed establishments
- When purchasing RTE raw fish from supermarkets or retail food establishments, ensure that it is intended/suitable for raw consumption
- When in doubt, cook the fish thoroughly before consumption, as cooking is an effective way to kill bacteria and parasites
- Follow the instructions indicated on the package on the handling and storage of RTE raw fish. RTE raw fish should be placed in the chiller at temperatures between 0 oC and 4 oC soon after purchase.
- Do not consume expired RTE raw fish.
- Avoid cross contamination. Wash hands and kitchen utensils thoroughly before and after handling RTE raw fish and use separate sets of kitchen utensils for RTE raw fish and cooked food.