Remember when the FDA and CDC were looking at spicy tuna sushi rolls as a possible culprit behind a Salmonella Bareilly outbreak that has by now sickened 116 people across nineteen states? As it turns out, that’s exactly what it was. On Friday, the CDC confirmed a frozen raw yellowfin tuna product labeled Nakaochi Scrape AA or AAA as the most likely cause of the Salmonella outbreak; the same day, the FDA announced that Cupertino-based Moon Marine USA Corporation (MMI) was voluntarily recalling 58,828 lbs of the tuna product. So that’s all taken care of. But hey, wait a minute – what is this Nakaochi Scrape business, anyway?
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The FDA describes Nakaochi Scrape as “tuna backmeat, which is specifically scraped off from the bones, and looks like a ground product.” You probably know it best as the ground tuna in your spicy tuna rolls, but the report indicates that it can also turn up in various types of sushi as well as ceviches and other seafood products. It’s been there in the background for years, but it’s not the kind of thing that most people are aware of until they’re confronted with it head on – not unlike boneless lean beef trimmings. It’s fitting, then, that some are already beginning to wonder if Nakaochi Scrape might be the next pink slime:
Given all the commotion over "pink slime," a derogatory moniker for processed beef trimmings, the notion of frozen tuna goo being used to make sushi is less than appetizing. But is it any more dangerous than regular sushi?
To find out, we called up Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. He was just about to jet off to a big food safety conference in China.
This was the first he had heard of tuna scrape. But, he added, "There are a lot of things we haven't heard of that the industry is doing."
Is Nakaochi Scrape made of lesser quality meat than sashimi-grade tuna? It only seems logical. It’s mechanically separated back meat, not tender belly meat, and you’re kidding yourself if you think the heavily seasoned fish in your $4 supermarket bento box is the same as a $20+ plate of sashimi. But is it always so risky? Doyle told NPR reporter Nancy Shute that, while ground versions of meat like chicken and beef do tend to harbor more bacteria than whole cuts, not enough research has been done on ground fish to give a definitive answer.
Doyle did also caution NPR readers that the freezing process popular for raw fish isn’t always enough to kill pathogens, noting that his rule of thumb for animal products is to cook them. Not that sushi fans are going to go along with an “everything cooked” mantra that easily. In cases like this, it will have to come down to a personal judgment call. It’s like the FDA says in its recall warning: when in doubt, don’t eat it.