Sorry, sushi fans. A 20-state salmonella outbreak linked to a “yellowfin tuna product” is exposing a little more about how spicy tuna rolls are made, and the FDA is recommending that, until the current recall is past, you ask some questions before eating them.
Spicy tuna rolls, as omnipresent as California rolls in mass-market sushi packs and on kaiten conveyor belts, have long been casually maligned as a way to disguise poor-quality fish. I’ve never seen any evidence to back that up, but it was still edifying to learn that the rolls are not, at least on a mass scale, made from chopped pieces of whole fish. Instead, they’re typically filled with “scrape,” according to the FDA, backmeat that’s scraped from the tuna’s bones and looks like it’s ground up.
“Did you know that’s what you may be getting when you get your fancy pants sushi?” asked Kansas State University’s Barfblog, calling the news sushi eaters’ own version of ‘pink slime,’ or, at least, McRibs. (Hmm. Can sushi still be considered ‘fancypants’ when you can buy it a couple aisles over from the cat food and toilet paper and scarf it down in the car?)
The current outbreak — no word yet on how it occurred — has been associated with the California-based Moon Marine USA Corporation (also known as MMI), which the FDA said is voluntarily recalling 58,828 lbs of a frozen “product” labeled as Nakaochi Scrape AA or AAA. The agency says to ask where the fish in your spicy tuna rolls and “other sushi, sashimi, ceviche, or similar dishes that might contain Nakoaochi Scrape” are from before you buy them, and if there’s any doubt, don’t eat them.
The bad news: The “scrape” is sold through distributors to restaurants and grocery stores that make sushi, according to the FDA, but “the boxes may have been broken into smaller lots for further sale and may not be available to the end retailer or consumer,” meaning that the people you’re supposed to ask might honestly have no clue if they’re using the recalled stuff.
None of the 116 illnesses reported to date have been in Washington state, but new ones are still being added to the list, so I wouldn’t take that as a guarantee.