Is Tuna Scrape the New Pink Slime?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration identified raw yellowfin tuna as the source of a salmonella outbreak that reached more than 200 people throughout 24 states and the District of Columbia. Salmonella Bareilly was the organism and many of the people that became sick had eaten spicy tuna rolls. As a result of the outbreak, the Moon Marine USA Corporation in Cupertino California voluntarily recalled their product labeled as "Nakaochi Scrape AA or AAA." Nakaochi Scrape is the scraped backmeat from the spine of the tuna. It resembles ground fish and is generally served raw, often in spicy tuna and other rolls.
Over the past several months we have heard a great deal about lean finely textured beef (LFTB), commonly referred to as pink slime, in our food supply. Now that attention has turned to the pulverized fish, many are asking if it is the fish version of pink slime.
Ken Gall, Extension Associate at Cornell University and member of the National Seafood HACCP Alliance Steering Committee believes comparing the two processes of removing meat from bones is unwarranted. This is because additional processing and ammonia treatment is required to create lean finely textured beef but not for tuna scrape. While this differentiation is helpful, it still leaves questions. If tuna scrape doesn't require additional processing or chemical treatments, what is it and is it something we should be concerned about?

What is tuna scrape?
Tuna scrape is the meat that is removed from the spine of the fish (through a scraping process) after whole cut filets have been obtained. There is no additional processing done to the meat after collection unless chopped into smaller more uniform pieces.
What is Salmonellosis?
It is the infection caused by the Salmonella bacteria first discovered by an American scientist named Salmon. People with a Salmonella infection typically develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after infection and typically recover within 4 to 7 days many times without any medical intervention. Those most at risk from infection related complications are the elderly, infants, and those with impaired immunity.
Where do you find scraped fish meat in our food supply?
While raw tuna scrape isn't typically sold by itself to individual consumers, it is distributed and sold in frozen form to restaurants and supermarkets for use in sushi, sashimi, ceviche, and other similar dishes. Some restaurants have chefs that will remove the backbone meat on site and serve it fresh. Tuna scrape isn't considered inferior quality to the whole cuts but is subject to the grade of the fish. Since raw frozen tuna scrape typically sells at a cheaper rate than domestic fresh fish, there is strong suspicion it may come from lower grade sources. Cheap sushi usually comes from cheap ingredients and with it comes increased risk of contaminants.  

What are the raw fish safety concerns?
Approximately 85 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported including frozen fish products like the tuna scrape. Recent reports indicate the FDA only inspects two percent of what is imported. Unfortunately, this means consumers in the U.S. must simply trust that international food producers are following safe handling procedures and that U.S. importers are diligently verifying seafood safety through pathogen testing before sale. Since processing plants combine the scrapings from many fish, one bad fish can contaminate the entire batch. Freezing can reduce risks of parasite related food borne illness but not the risk from bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. In the case of the Salmonella Bareilly, it survives in cold conditions and multiplies once the frozen block thaws.
What are the raw fish recommendations for sushi lovers?
Consuming raw food of animal origin increases the risk of food borne illness. The FDA recommends cooking seafood thoroughly and only consuming raw fish that has been previously frozen.

Since we know that freezing doesn't kill all harmful microorganisms, remember these practical steps to decrease your risk: consume raw fish that has been freshly caught, cut to order in front of you and prepared by a well trained chef. Since many supermarket sushi options will contain imported tuna scrape that may or may not have been inspected, buyer beware. This is especially true for those individuals that are at increased risk from foodborne illness which are pregnant women, young children, elderly adults, and those with compromised immunity.
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Are you a sushi or raw fish lover? How much attention do you pay to raw fish sourcing? Will you change your approach moving forward?