Just after pink slime (ground-up beef trimmings) was banned at McDonalds and school cafeteria lunchrooms, along comes another dicey sounding item called ‘tuna scrape’. Scraped off bones after the fillets are removed, tuna back-meat is combined with other fish, then minced, frozen and shipped to retailers and distributors who further truck the stuff to grocery stores and restaurants where it ends up in inexpensive sushi, mostly spicy tuna rolls. And these rolls are where the trouble started. Over 80 people in 250 diagnosed cases and 6000 undiagnosed cases of an illness caused by a rare strain of salmonella chowed down on these spicy tuna rolls. The tuna scrape in them came from a factory in India owned by Moon Marine of Taiwan. Identified by the FDA as the salmonella culprit, Moon Marine has recalled 30 tons of their  product labeled Nakaochi scrape.

With sushi having gone mainstream in the US, the tuna scrape in inexpensive spicy tuna rolls shouldn’t be confused with far more costly, made to order, fresh sushi prepared by highly trained sushi chefs in high end restaurants. In Japan this training can take up to ten years. In the US sushi chefs can whiz through certification courses in two or three months, sometimes online. Not exactly a lengthy time to learn safe-food-handling procedures.

When compared to pink slime, tuna scrape is also pink, ground up sludge. But in terms of safety, at least pink slime, no matter how distasteful, is heated during processing and doused with ammonia gas. Tuna scrape on the other hand, is treated with zero bacteria inhibitors. The raw fish also travels a lengthy International trail from processing to freezing to shipping to sushi chef’s knives to people’s stomachs. And the longer and more complex the food trail, the greater the chance of safety errors cropping up, especially for raw fish.

Over 80% of the fish eaten in the US is imported and only 1 or 2 percent of that is inspected.

When NPR called Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at University of Georgia, he had never heard of tuna scrape. Nevertheless, he said, when it comes to food health, his rule was that “raw food of animal origin should be cooked before it’s eaten.”

For anyone feeling smug about the fact they never eat sushi, it’s occurred to me that tuna scrape, like pink slime, could easily be formed into other products. Like perhaps…fish sticks or fish patties. So far there’s no indication tuna scrape is being used for any other product except sushi and those spicy tuna rolls. But hey, out there in Process-Foodland where profit is king, who can guess what tuna scrape’s next gambit might be?

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