Is Spicy Tuna Sushi As Bad As Pink Slime?

By MaryAnn DePietro, CRT. May 7th 2016

Whether you are a fan of spicy tuna sushi rolls or not, you may have heard about the outbreak of salmonella linked to tuna scrape from which the spicy tuna is made from. Partly due to the attention gathered from the outbreak, tuna scrape has been scrutinized for its safety. It has also been compared to the beef additive, pink slime, which has also made headlines, but the comparison does not appear to be accurate. Continue to read below to find out why.

What Is Pink Slime?

Although the beef industry refers to it as lean, finely textured beef, it may be more commonly known as pink slime. You may not have heard of it, but you may have eaten it. (To learn more about pink slime, read Is There Pink Slime In Your Beef?)

Pink slime is the term used for an inexpensive additive to beef products. It is made up of connective tissue, fat and beef scrapes. The material is processed and treated with ammonia gas in order to kill bacteria. After processing, it is made into small blocks and then frozen. Pink slime is then added to beef products since it is inexpensive. Pink slime itself cannot be sold to customers, but beef products in The United States can be comprised of up to 15 percent pink slime.

Sushi And The Tuna Scrape Connection

Spicy tuna sushi can be made up in part of a ground fish product known as tuna scrape. Tuna scrape is essentially the leftover fish after the fillets have been cut off the bone. Because it is scraped from the bone and considered remnants, some have compared it to pink slime since both sound unappetizing.

Although tuna scrape has been compared to pink slime, there are really few similarities between them, according to Food Safety News. Both look like ground products, but there are several differences. Pink slime includes fat and connective tissue, while tuna scrape does not. In addition, pink slime is heated and ammonia gas is used to sterilize it. Tuna scrape does not have additional processing done to it after it is scraped from the bone.

Salmonella Outbreak

In April 2012, a salmonella outbreak linked to tuna scrape occurred, which involved about 20 states throughout the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the outbreak was linked to a particular type of tuna scrape known as Nakaochi Scrape, which is tuna scrape from raw yellowfin tuna back meat. Although the back meat cannot be bought directly by customers, it is sold to grocery stores and restaurants, where it is used to make spicy tuna sushi.

Nakaochi Scrape is commonly used to make sushi, which likely caused the outbreak of salmonella. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the company that manufactures Nakaochi Scrape voluntarily recalled almost 60,000 pounds of the product in mid April 2012.

Salmonella can cause serious gastrointestinal symptoms, such as severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and fever. It may be especially dangerous to people who have a suppressed immune system, the elderly or very young children. The infection can also spread to the bloodstream and can even be fatal in some circumstances. The salmonella outbreak, which was linked to sushi, has not caused any deaths as of late April 2012.

Safety And Precautions

Although the company manufacturing the tuna scrape has recalled the item, some people may wonder if it is safe to eat sushi or spicy tuna sushi, specifically. With all the terms being tossed around in the media, such as pink slime, tuna scrape and salmonella, it makes sense to be skeptical about eating sushi. While you don’t necessarily have to give up eating spicy tuna sushi forever, there are a few things to take into consideration before you dig in:

  • Ask about sushi grade. Sushi grade means the fish is high quality, fresh and has been frozen according to industry standards. Although this will not guarantee the sushi you eat is free of bacteria, it will minimize the chances of foodborne illness. Furthermore proper handling and freezing will also reduce the likelihood of food borne illnesses.
  • Find out if tuna scrape is used. If the idea of eating tuna scrape does not appeal to you, ask the chef how the sushi is prepared and if tuna scrape is used. A chef in a reputable restaurant should not mind answering questions about preparation.
  • Eat it right away. If you are getting sushi to take home, be sure to eat it immediately or store it in the refrigerator with a temperature under 41 F to reduce bacteria growth.

The bottom line is spicy tuna sushi does not appear to be as bad as pink slime, and there are few similarities between the two. If spicy tuna sushi is one of your favorites, there does not appear to be a need to give it up forever. Outbreaks of food poisoning happen occasionally and have been linked to various foods, but that does not mean the food has to be avoided forever. If you are pregnant, or have a compromised immune system, your doctor may recommend skipping any type of raw fish including spicy tuna sushi. For others, taking certain precautions should help reduce the risk of illness.


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