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Dr. Oz Show Fanned Bogus Seafood Fears
Seriously misleading segment hyped two very rare risks … in fact, seafood is far safer than chicken
6/16/2014By Craig Weatherby and Laurie Fritts
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Cardiac surgeon and Columbia University professor Mehmet Oz, M.D., hosts The Dr. Oz Show.
 
His widely popular program ranks number one in daytime TV ... and Dr. Oz and his guests have helped educate millions of people about health, nutrition, and fitness in entertaining, memorable ways.
 
For example, to show how American’s imbalanced intake of omega-6 and omega-3s fats inflicts serious harm, he invited audience members to battle with colorful cudgels.
 
But he’s also touted some dubious or unproven dietary supplements (like rasberry ketones for weight loss) and medical theories ... with potentially negative consequences for peoples' health and pocketbooks.
 
We were truly dismayed by one segment in his June 6 show, in which Dr. Oz fanned bogus fears about fish.
 
Dr. Oz indulged in seafood scare-mongering
His guest for the June 6 segment was Peter DeLucia, assistant health commissioner for Westchester County, and author of A Health Inspector’s Guide to Eating Out.
 
They focused on two supposed fish safety concerns:
  • Parasites in ocean fish
  • Scombroid toxins in spoiled fish

Perhaps his producers felt that sensationalizing these issue (or rather, non-issues) would translate into higher ratings for the Dr. Oz Show.

If so, we’re deeply disappointed that the good doctor would stoop to tabloid tactics in pursuit of higher ratings.
 
And it will be a shame should this influential thought leader scare people away from wild salmon – one of the healthiest foods people can eat.
 
These are the facts concerning the two issues he raised about wild fish.
 
Parasites in fish
Dr. Oz noted – accurately – that ocean fish, including salmon and cod, commonly carry tiny roundworms called ascarids.
 
If you eat raw fish that has never been frozen, ascarids can cause mild to serious complications in your gastrointestinal tract.
 
But according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Bad Bug Book” for 2012, fewer than ten cases of ascarid infection occur annually in the United States The extreme rarity of such infections is easy to explain, because these tiny creatures are killed by cooking and freezing.
 
Dr. Oz cited sushi as a parasite risk. However, almost all of the sushi served in restaurants and supermarkets is cut from previously frozen fish, and therefore does not contain any live parasites.
 
All Vital Choice seafood is subjected to one or both of these parasite-killing processes. And our flash-freezing process usually disintegrates them into utter invisibility.
 
Although we closely inspect fish and do our best to remove any ascarids, occasionally one may slip by … only to be killed by freezing and/or cooking.
 
We observe the following FDA recommendations, which ensure the death of any and all parasites (the freezing procedure varies by product but always meets one of the three standards):
  • Cook canned fish to an internal temperature of at least 145° F [~63° C].
  • Freeze raw and smoked fish at -4°F (-20°C) or below for 7 days (total time).
  • Freeze raw and smoked fish at -31°F (-35°C) or below until solid, and store at -31°F (-35°C) or below for 15 hours
  • Freeze raw and smoked fish at -31°F (-35°C) or below until solid and store at -4°F (-20°C) or below for 24 hours.
Abandoning frozen or cooked seafood to avoid these harmless creatures would be both pointless (for the reasons cited) and certainly counterproductive to your health.
 
Scombroid poisoning
This risk from eating spoiled seafood gets its name from fish of the “scombroid” family, which include tuna, bonito and mackerel.
 
These fish normally large amounts of an amino acid called histidine, which is converted into histamine by an enzyme produced by certain bacteria.
 
The human immune system uses histamine to trigger inflammatory responses to foreign substances, such as allergic reactions to plant materials (e.g., hay fever).
 
Scombroid poisoning can result from eating spoiled fish of these kinds that were inadequately refrigerated after being caught, and then develop high levels of bacteria that turn their histidine into histamine.
 
However, our frozen seafood is never allowed to thaw, and our canned seafood is either cooked within hours of harvest or is frozen within hours of harvest and cooked immediately after being thawed.
 
Thus, it is quite impossible for consumption of our seafood to result in scombroid poisoning … unless the consumer fails to keep frozen seafood frozen or refrigerated until just prior to consumption or cooking.
 
Eating large amounts of histidine from spoiled fish can cause the symptoms associated with high levels of histamine, such as those found in extreme allergic reactions.
 
It’s important to put Dr. Oz’s unfortunate fear-mongering into perspective. Seafood is safer than poultry, by far.
 
As food writer and author Steven A. Shaw wrote in the July 15, 2007 edition of The New York Times, “If you take raw and partly cooked shellfish out of the equation, the risk of falling ill from eating seafood is 1 in 2 million servings, the government calculated some years back; by comparison, the risk from eating chicken is 1 in 25,000.”
 
 
Sources
  • Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Food Safety Facts on Scombroid Poisoning. Accessed at http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/information-for-consumers/fact-sheets/ food-poisoning/scombroid/eng/1332280657698/1332280735024
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Anisakiasis FAQs. Accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/anisakiasis/faqs.html U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food Poisoning from Marine Toxins. Accessed at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2014/ chapter-2-the-pre-travel-consultation/food-poisoning-from-marine-toxins
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S. Bad Bug Book: Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins Handbook Anisakis simplex and related worms. Accessed at http://www.fda.gov/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/ causesofillnessbadbugbook/ucm070768.htm
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