-30°C Fishy Fish

Whenever I see raw fish outside of Japan I ask myself is it safe. The answer is not straight forward but it’s better to be safe than sorry. The idea of raw fish fascinates travelers all over the world. When I first came to Greece (30+ years ago) I worked in a Taverna. The clients would watch a fresh lobster but likely receive a frozen version. The reason was quite simple and even true. Many travelers would have no idea what was fresh, or frozen. There was no point to waste a fresh lobster on a city dweller when they couldn’t recognize the difference. In the Americas that’s forbidden but here, fresh lobster was scarce so no need to waste it.

Fresh fish is usually safe unless it’s contaminated and these days the waters are contaminated. I recently heard that Alici (white anchovies) are not safe but I am not sure. There is no doubt some fish can slightly poison people. For example Ciguatera fish poisoning is an illness caused by eating fish that contain toxins produced by a marine micro-algae and Ciguatera has no cure.

The key to safe fish is with the deep freezing of fish at -30+ for a minimum of 15 hours but any virus or hard bacteria are not likely destroyed. The chances of encountering bacteria is more likely to happen in the kitchen than the sea but the sea has plenty of problems as well.

Fish can concentrate high levels of chemical residues in their flesh and mercury isn’t the only dangerous toxin. Big fish eat smaller fish, and the PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) become more concentrated in their flesh. PCBs are synthetic chemicals that were once used in industry for hydraulic and in transformers etc. These toxins were banned in the United States in late 1970’s but heavy past usage has resulted in environmental contamination especially in fish.

PCBs are dangerous because they act like hormones, wreaking havoc on the nervous system and contributing to a variety of illnesses. Some fish-eaters with high levels of PCBs in their blood have difficulty recalling information that they learned just 30 minutes earlier.

I adore fish and understand the risks and so should you.