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CNA Explains: What are the dangers of eating raw fish?

What checks are in place for food like raw fish and what can you do to reduce the risks when consuming such dishes?

CNA Explains: What are the dangers of eating raw fish?
How can you reduce the risks when eating raw fish? (File photo: iStock)

SINGAPORE: Seen the images of the tiny translucent worm wriggling about in a half-eaten sashimi rice bowl from Don Don Donki?

A spokesperson for the Japanese discount store chain said after the incident last Wednesday (Feb 8) that parasites may not be entirely removed if "hidden deep" inside the core of raw fish or embedded in the flesh.

This is despite the company's best attempts at visual checks and maintaining proper cold chain management. 

So just how perilous is it to eat raw fish? Does it mean accepting the risk of gulping down an organism that will attach itself to and feed off your insides?

Here's what you should know before ordering your next slab of sashimi.

A parasitic worm was found in a rice bowl from Don Don Donki. (Photo: Facebook/Jayice Tan)


The couple with the unwanted worm add-on to their rice bowl said on Facebook that they hoped to avoid serious health trouble after the encounter.

The parasite in question - called Anisakis - can cause anisakiasis disease, with symptoms of abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, abdominal swelling, diarrhoea and mild fever.

In 2015, a specific strain of Group B streptococcus (GBS) bacteria infected more than 160 people in Singapore who had eaten dishes containing raw freshwater fish.

Two died, one 50-year-old man had to have all of his limbs amputated and another 54-year-old man came out of a two-week coma without his hearing.

It was the largest outbreak of its kind in the world, and led to Singapore banning the sale of ready-to-eat or RTE raw freshwater fish.

All RTE raw fish - including those found in dishes from sushi and sashimi to poké and yu sheng - is considered high-risk food as it is uncooked, said the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) on its website. 

"Raw fish contains a higher germ count, which can increase if good hygiene practices are not observed during the preparation process, such as preparing the fish with dirty hands and using dirty utensils and cutting boards." 

Besides microbiological contamination, the consumption of RTE raw fish also carries a risk of contracting parasitic diseases, added the agency. 


Stringent checks and tests are conducted on food like raw fish, to try and catch a wide range of hazards including microbial pathogens and parasites, said SFA.  

The agency said its food safety monitoring programme is "guided by a science-based risk assessment and management approach that is consistent with international standards".

It also takes a "joint responsibility" approach to food safety.

In February 2021, statutory board Enterprise Singapore and the industry-led Singapore Standards Council issued guidelines for the proper handling, storing and processing of RTE raw fish. 

The aim is to prevent bacterial and parasitic contamination and keep raw fish safe for consumption.

Industry players are recommended to ensure that frozen RTE raw fish is received at specific temperatures, and to educate consumers on how to retain the quality and safety of raw fish after purchase, among other things.


General suggestions to stick to include only eating raw fish that is sashimi graded and consuming it as soon as possible, according to the HealthHub platform.

Suppliers previously told CNA that if eating in restaurants, the colour of the raw fish serves as a guide: If it is bright, it is fresh; if dark, the advice is to not consume it.

SFA recommends buying RTE raw fish from licensed establishments only, and making sure that it is actually intended for raw consumption.

The 2021 guidelines also suggest making RTE raw fish the last item to put in your shopping basket, and to keep it in an insulated bag after.

Instructions on the package on how to handle and store the RTE raw fish should be followed. 

The fish should be placed in the chiller at temperatures between zero degrees Celsius and four degrees Celsius soon after purchase, added SFA. 

When handling the fish, hands and utensils should be thoroughly washed before and after to prevent cross-contamination. 

And if it's not obvious enough - do not consume expired RTE raw fish. 

"Consumers who choose to eat RTE raw fish must be aware of the risks involved," said SFA.

It added that people with lower immunity such as pregnant women, children and the elderly, as well as people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, should avoid consuming raw fish altogether.

Source: CNA/at(jo)


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