Friday, August 26, 2011


We almost never read news about parasites being found in fish. But don't let that fool you. They are there, much more often than you think. Hundreds of different kinds. In fact, I have just walked back indoors after chatting with one of my gourmand neighbors. The conversation started with the most recent burglary on our street, and ended on parasites in fish (a symbolic connection?). He told me about an experience he had a few days ago.

What happened was this: he had bought a whole halibut fish from Whole Foods Market for a dinner party. As he was in the kitchen with one of the guests, about to put the fish in the oven, the guest noticed a pinkish worm in the fish. What to do? The other guests were waiting. Should they just go ahead, cook and serve the fish and keep quiet about the worms, or go out for pizza? In the end, the guest who spied the parasite made a good suggestion. They called Whole Foods, which was still open and rushed down to exchange the fish for wild salmon. The manager believed their story, and said, yes, it does happen from time to time. Not that unusual at all.

What they found was probably a Cod worm ( the most recent scientific name is Phocanema decipiens) - a common "round worm" in fish. It is found in several kinds of fish such as halibut, haddock, flounder, sole and even red snapper. The larger fish are more likely to carry it. This parasite may sometimes look pinkish, creamy white or brown, and is about 4cm long.

But isn't fish inspected, especially those sold at upper-end ("healthy") stores such as Whole Foods? Yes, it is, and a process called "candling" is also used which is supposed to help the inspectors see any worm-type parasites. But no inspection is ever 100% effective. Candling is also less likely to work well with whole fish where filets are thick and the skin is on - as in the case of my neighbor's halibut.

If you happen to come across such parasites in your fresh fish, you have several options. One, you can cook the fish well, and eat it, parasites and all. They will be killed and harmless. Most of us would not have the stomach for this approach, or want to serve it to guests. The next option is to put on a pair of disposable gloves, take a sharp knife or tweezers, grit your teeth and carefully remove and discard any wormy creatures in the fish. You can then cook the fish and eat it. The third option is the garbage - hopefully getting a replacement fish from the store. Most stores would willingly comply, as Whole Foods did in this case.

The Safe Food Handbook discusses parasites in fish in more detail, and gives you the specifics on how to be safe.

To your good health,


Anonymous said...

Congrats to Whole Foods! The Manager did the right thing. like most people, seeing a worm in something you are about to eat is very off-putting

andrea chiu said...

The food is absolutely amazing. I hope I could taste and cook that in actual, maybe if I have much time since I am so busy working. Anyways, thanks for sharing your article. God Bless and have a good day. Visit my site too.

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Anonymous said...

Reading your article is a privilege? inspiring? Thanks for the info. Fortunately, I just had one tiny worm in my fish. I cut up the rest to inspect for anymore and didn't see any. Bought mine at Market Street. I called the fish manager there and he said its fairly common in wild fish and to just make sure I remove any and cook thoroughly. I don't think I'd ever eat raw fish, as there can be worms and parasites in them, some of which can be very dangerous to your health from what I've read on line. Personally, I don't care for sushi. I sprinkled with Panko bread crumbs and put in 400 degree oven for 13 min. and will eat with my special Hot Mango Chutney, baked potato and Brussel Sprouts! Joan