Tapeworm Tango

Saw this today and just had to write about it.

From CNN (link: http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/08/19/tapeworm.suit.ap/index.html)

CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) — A man who contends he got a 9-foot tapeworm after eating undercooked fish has sued a Chicago restaurant.

In the lawsuit filed Monday, Anthony Franz said he ordered salmon salad for lunch from Shaw’s Crab House in 2006 and fell violently ill. He later passed the giant parasite, which a pathologist determined came from undercooked fish, such as salmon.

Franz’s lawsuit seeks $100,000 from Shaw’s and its parent company, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, contending the restaurant’s staff was negligent in serving him improperly cooked fish.

But Carrol Symank, vice president of food safety for Lettuce Entertain You, said the tapeworm didn’t come from Shaw’s.

“We have done a thorough investigation, and we’re confident the restaurant is not the source,” he said.

According to the Web site mayoclinic.com, tapeworms can measure up to 50 feet long.

Reasons why this is probably a crock:

  • According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the larvae from a tapeworm takes several weeks to mature and begin laying eggs. My reading of this article (brief though it may be) leads me to understand that this guy became ill almost immediately after consuming the salmon.
  • I couldn’t find any information on how long it would take for a tapeworm to grown to 9 feet in length. BUT, I would guess more than 2 years when you consider that its not uncommon for tapeworms to live undetected in human intestines for years. Its really not in the worm’s best interest to outgrow its host after all.
  • The FDA requires that any fish which will be served raw must first be frozen and held frozen at a specific temperature for a specified number of days. This is required because it kills any parasitic worms present in the fish flesh. Even if this guy didn’t eat raw fish, i.e. sashimi, the restaurant does have a sushi chef and an oyster bar. Rather than keep their “for cooking” salmon and their “for sushi” salmon separate, I suspect they just use frozen fresh salmon.

On the subject of fresh frozen fish, much of the fresh fish sold in this country is actually thawed frozen fish. Besides the FDA requirements for fish that will be served raw, its more practical for the large-scale fisherman. A large fishing boat will have to spend days at sea to reach the good spots, collect the fish and return. Hopefully, they are catching fish everyday. They aren’t coming back in at the end of each night, right? So, they use dry ice or other flash-freezing techniques to preserve the fish on the boat until they return to port. There are some studies that have shown that this flash-frozen fish preserves nutrients and texture better than stuff that is fresh caught and flown across country on ice but not frozen.

A quick tip: Although fish with a strong “fishy” smell is not recommended and probably won’t taste very good, you sometimes get a faint odor after thawing fish at home. If this happens to you, try soaking the fish in buttermilk or even regular milk for 15 minutes first (the slight acidity of buttermilk does a better job).


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