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Worms make some fish unsuitable for sashimi

By Chris Macias

The Sacramento Bee

LAST UPDATED: 07:42 p.m. HST, Jun 23, 2014

Andrew Calisterio opened a package of fresh cod, eager to whip up some ceviche for dinner. But an uninvited guest quickly foiled those plans: a small, thin, wriggling worm found inside the packaging.

Calisterio, a popular bartender at a Sacramento, California, gastropub, filmed a few seconds of the writhing invertebrate on his iPhone and posted the video to his Facebook page. A slew of grossed-out comments followed, along the likes of:

"Yaaarrrggh!" ... "OMG EWWWW!!!!" ... "I think I may have to eliminate fish now. Forever."

But some of Calisterio's colleagues in the restaurant industry made a counterpoint: Worms in fresh cod and other whitefish are actually fairly common, and the fish is fine if cooked thoroughly.

That's to say, if you've ever taken down a basket of fish and chips, chances are you've ingested some deep-fried worm parts at some point.

"A lot of 'Taco Tuesdays' also use cod," Calisterio said. "It's fun to be romantic and say, 'I'm eating fresh,' but there's a little reality check when you see a worm in your food."

Similar instances of worms found in fresh fish have emerged on social media. One video taken of a worm found in a package of cod purchased at a South Carolina Costco was shared more than 349,000 times on Facebook. By comparison, Calisterio's video was shared just seven times on Facebook but drew more than 40 comments, ranging from the snarky to the sickened and the sensible.

Calisterio purchased the fish at a Safeway, where he recalls the fish monger saying the fresh cod was an especially good deal and would be perfect for Calisterio's ceviche.

"I got home, cracked open the freshly wrapped cod and started deboning," Calisterio said. "Then I see the worm. It's not in the fish. It's next to it in the packaging - and following my finger."

The worm found in Calisterio's cod was most likely an anisakid nematode, a larval roundworm that's associated with cod, halibut and other bottom feeders. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, infections caused by ingesting these worms through raw or undercooked seafood are rare, fewer than 10 cases annually. However, the FDA reports that many more cases may go undetected.

In most cases, swallowing this worm won't cause much more than temporary stomach discomfort. These worms are usually eliminated from the digestive tract within three weeks. In the most severe scenario, the parasite or its remnants would have to be removed via surgery.

The prevalence of these worms is why you never see cod sashimi offered at a sushi bar. Cod is meant to be cooked thoroughly to kill any critters that might still be clinging to the fish. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit when cooking such seafood.

Basically, the worm in the cod isn't much different than the occasional bug found in that haul of farmers-market fruit. Many fish processors try to ferret out the worms by examining the seafood under lights, but sometimes the creatures still make it to market.

"This is a rare occurrence at Safeway," said Keith Turner, a spokesperson for Safeway, in a statement. "If a customer has a concern with fish or any other product, they should return the item for a full refund."

And that's what happened to Calisterio once he contacted the midtown Safeway. Calisterio says they initially offered him a replacement of fresh cod, but he opted to just get his eight bucks back. Dinner plans for homemade ceviche were scrapped, and Calisterio chose frozen shrimp instead.

Even though Calisterio ultimately learned the worm was fairly benign, the whole experience was a buzz kill.

"I'm going to be a lot more cautious," Calisterio said. "It will take some convincing for me to buy cod any time soon."

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sailfish1 wrote:
Since the worm was alive, I guess the fish was fresh.
on June 23,2014 | 08:31PM
environmental_lady wrote:
Well, he had better not apply as a contestant for Survivor Show. It's amusing to me that meat eaters are grossed out by worms when any kind of meat grosses me out even worse.
on June 23,2014 | 10:21PM
HanabataDays wrote:
Anyone who doesn't want a close-up look at worms (or other invertebrates, yuck!) can now find refuge in the Washington Zoo.
on June 24,2014 | 12:36AM
st1d wrote:
cereal is allowed a quota of bug parts and other animal residue in every package.

still protein. still eat it.

on June 24,2014 | 09:05AM
cojef wrote:
Took a community college course once and prof indicated that the Department of Agriculture allows about 6% worms in store bought tomato ketchup. Since then refrain from using tomato ketchup. Love codfish fried fish sticks and eat them all the time. Use tartar sauce with it.
on June 24,2014 | 11:34AM
hikine wrote:
Tilapia is also a bottom feeder and so is the catfish. Also pigs has a history of having worms and this way Jewish people don't eat pork. As long as fish and meats are cooked thoroughly there so be no problems. I would rather worry about salmonella and other bacterial contaminations!
on June 24,2014 | 03:51AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
No big deal. Anyone who has ever eaten ketchup has consumed worms and insects. All main brand ketchup has a small percentage of this....
on June 24,2014 | 08:01AM
cojef wrote:
See my post above.
on June 24,2014 | 11:35AM
AmbienDaze wrote:
those maggot looking worms in aku belly are pretty good. hard to find, though, these days.
on June 24,2014 | 09:12AM
awahana wrote:
Worms are everywhere. If you own a dog or cat, eat poke, sashimi, medium or rare cooked steak, and the like, you already are a connoisseur of the annelid phylogeny. Get a clue.
on June 24,2014 | 09:59AM
sak wrote:
And just chew well....
on June 24,2014 | 02:25PM
SueH wrote:
Worms are very common in Kahala (Amberjack) and Mongchong flesh here in Hawaii, and of course there are the small worms in the belly lining of Aku and other tunas that most of us already know about. Worms will even form cysts in Ono and Mahimahi flesh, and although unappetizing, can be easily cut out.
on June 24,2014 | 10:40AM
kauai wrote:
Uh, oh, OK, for a second there I thought you were about to make a comment about Kahala, the area/region/neighborhood. Good thing you clarified with the parentheses. (Though I was prepared for a chuckle anyway.)
on June 24,2014 | 11:32AM
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