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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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August 22, 2008 9:00 AM

I'll have the salmon sushi -- medium-well

Posted by Nancy Leson

When Jon Rowley talks, people listen. Especially when he's talking about salmon. I just read his take on "Why You Should Avoid Raw Salmon" on Gourmet.com, in which he discusses (among other less than appetizing issues) a Chicago man who blamed his nine-foot-long diphyllobothrium latum (that's Latin for "Oh my God! It's a tapeworm!") on a seafood restaurant that served him undercooked fish. And that's when I determined perhaps I shouldn't be so quick-on-the-draw when reaching for the salmon tartare, the salmon ceviche or the salmon sushi I eat all over town. While Rowley doesn't suggest one should never eat raw salmon (freezing it at minus-31 degrees Fahrenheit or colder for 15 hours kills the Diplyllobothrium larvae), he explains why aficionados such as myself might proceed with caution, noting in summation:

"How likely is it that the salmon you're eating contains a tapeworm? According to Tammy Burton, a fish pathologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the levels of infestation fluctuate seasonally and from year to year, but in general Diphyllobothrium latum is "fairly common" in Alaska salmon. In its Bad Bug Book, the FDA warns that farmed salmon, if they spend time in fresh water, can also acquire the larvae. Farmed salmon from Chile, where juvenile salmon are grown in cages in freshwater lakes, have been implicated in diphyllobothriasis outbreaks in Brazil and elsewhere.


So a better question is: How likely is it that you will get a tapeworm if you eat raw, unfrozen salmon that contains a tapeworm larva? According to Phillip Klesius, a research leader at the USDA Aquatic Animal Health Research Laboratory in Auburn, Alabama, "The consumption of one live larva can result in tapeworm infection." So until you find out if that salmon has been frozen first, it would be best to hold your fork."

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Listen to Nancy at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. during Morning Edition, at 4:40 p.m. during All Things Considered and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. during Weekend Edition on KPLU 88.5.

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