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Jul 26, 2001 10:57 AM

worm found in halibut

  • k

OK, this is gross, but I have a question. This past weekend my husband and I were at a friends house for dinner. We had a fantastic meal of halibut (bought, I believe, at Costco) and I was thoroughly satisfied. On the drive home my husband told me that in the middle of his halibut he discovered a worm, about the thickness of a strand of spaghetti or vermicelli, and it was WIGGLING. Needless to say, he covered it with a piece of something else on his plate and stopped eating. No, he didn't tell our hosts. I am completely grossed out and wonder if one can find worms in all fish. I think the fish was completely cooked through (at least mine was). Is this worm a parasite? Could I have eaten one myself without knowing it? I *used* to love fish and now I don't think I'll be able to eat it for a while... a looong while. Can someone out there explain this or make me feel better about eating fish in the future??!! Thanks in advance!

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  1. Funny you should post this question, because I had the same experience last week, only with a piece of cod. I found the worm, about an inch and half long, the width of a vermicelli strand and still alive, before cooking the fish. Check out the link below, which explains it all pretty clearly.


    1 Reply
    1. re: Yig

      I used to work on a deep sea charter fishing boat in Maine. One of my duties was filleting fish for the customers. In the summer months (July-August), every cod that I opened up had worms. In the winter and spring they are generally worm free.

      These are fish from Georges Bank and 20miles out to sea.

      I think these worms are harmless- i've never heard of anyone getting sick.

    2. Yeah, these can be quite common, bu they are indeed a parasite. Most reputable fish mongers view the cut fish over a lightbox and would remove any worms.
      These are exactly the parasites that cause some people to avoid sushi. In fact the real distinction between sushi-grade fish and regular cuts is the level of inspection, not really anything else to do with freshness or other quality measures.
      If it were me, I'd give a quick call to my physician, just to be on the safe side.

      1. Thanks so much for this post and the useful information following. I'm bookmarking the UC Davis site. This is one more good reason to buy products from responsible, reliable sources and know the history of our food.

        1. Thanks, all who replied to my worm question. The Davis site was great and I just *might* consider eating fish again, but only from a reputable dealer (Santa Monica Seafood).

          9 Replies
          1. re: Karen

            That Davis link featured an outdated and flawed article. The article repeatedly stated that cooking will kill all parasites, yet you said you saw it moving. Dead Worms Don't Wriggle.

            Parasitic worms are a health threat, and I would not be assured simply because one guy at UCDavis put up a web page.

            For additional info see this attached link (yeah, yeah, it is also from UCDavis, I get the irony).


            1. re: Alan H

              OK. Now I am completely grossed out. I STILL don't understand how that worm was still wiggling, unless the fish just wasn't cooked enough. MY piece seemed OK, but it was a thick piece of halibut and just maybe it was a tad undercooked...

              I can't imagine how I am ever going to eat fish again. Such a shame. I just wonder how many others have found worms in their fish.

              1. re: Karen

                All this information given on these links is really important for everyone to read not to be freaked out by but as preventitive measures. I think it's great to have so much passed on! Thank-you!
                I know first hand that most high-end sushi bars freeze their fish due to parasites and preservation. I worked with an awesome chef from Sushi-Ran in Sausalito recently and he shared lots of "in house" on their raw seafood "handeling" practices.
                I use to fish salmon in the bay and there were always worms, have been through years of fishing. We would always freeze the fish after cleaning for at least a week. Never witnessed a worm after that. Never worried about it either. Your experience, Karen, would be rightfully upseting and hopefully in time you can trust to eat seafood again down the road.
                I can promise you,not to sound gross, but this is an every day occurance in many foods we eat, not just fish. Good luck & Bon Appetit!

                1. re: Lucy Gore

                  Thanks for yet another reply. I know I sound freaked out and I am, but I trust that in time I'll get over my "fishphobia".

                  I understand that there are worms in fish, yet to hear about a wiggling one in my husband's fish was gross. What I still don't understand is why this was the first experience I had ever had with a worm in fish. I've eaten fish, gosh, thousands (hundreds?) of times in my life and I have never seen a worm before. When they are frozen do they just disappear (this seems unlikely) or does one just not notice it anymore? Also, what happens if the fish isn't frozen? You said that the salmon the fishermen caught was frozen afterwards, yet that wouldn't be classified as fresh fish then anymore, would it? What about fresh fish you get at a seafood market (a reputable one)?

                  1. re: Karen

                    Karen, Your initial post took me back to my childhood in South Florida. I resisted this reminiscence for a while, but here it is:

                    My mom managed a fleet of shrimp boats. (I earned spending money by "heading" shrimp. I had to stand on a box to reach the table the shrimp were dumped on!). We were very often the beneficiaries of wonderful and FREE fresh fish the shirmpers would catch while fishing off the side of their boats. We'd get pompano, red snapper, grouper, Spanish mackerel and the occasional conch that would come up in the nets. Once in a while I was allowed to go out on a short run. When the nets were brought up on deck and dumped out it was an amazing sight! More sea creatures than I could name, even now. My dad was the cook in the family and he could *really* cook. In my memory, almost all of the fish had worms. I complained one day about worms in my fish and my dad gave me a deadpan, level, gaze and said, "Look on them as a bonus!" As I've read these posts, I heard his admonishment over and over again. I guess they didn't hurt me, 'cause I'm still very much here. pat

                    1. re: Pat Hammond

                      I've resisted posting on this thread because I do not remember the source of my information--all I remember is that it seemed a reliable print source 7 or 8 years ago when I first read it. At that time there had been a few cases of people getting sick from roundworms in undercooked rock fish (Pacific Red Snapper). The source made the following points:

                      1) Many fish (like other creatures) have worms and other parasites. But 99.9% of those critters are unable to parasitize mammals, including people. After all, if you are a worm used to going into a fish's digestive system and then living in a fish at 65 degrees, a mammal with a wholly different digestive tract and an internal temperature of nearly 100 degrees is going to be fatal.

                      2) Many of the few fish parasites of concern to people are found in fish that are fresh water creatures for all or some of their lives (including salmon), which is one reason why salmon and eel, for example, are not served raw in susi bars.

                      3) The other fish parasites of concern are ones that are adapted to also use marine mammals as hosts. I believe these are the ones referred to in the UC Davis articles on dangerous roundworms in fish. Since most concentrations of marine mammals are close to shore, it is fish like rockfish that are most likely to be infected, whereas true deep sea fish, such as tuna, almost never have these kinds of parasites.

                      The source I read claimed that almost all cases of human parasitism from seafood that he had run across came from undercooked fish like rockfish, and almost none from raw fish consumed in sushi bars. It is also possible that practices like freezing sushi quality fish reduce the chances of parasitism from sushi, but I have many times bought fresh tuna or sweet shrimp or halibut and eaten them raw with no ill effects (so far, knock on wood).

                      Anyway, I hate to pass on perhaps dubious information, but it makes sense with my personal experience, as well as yours, Pat.

                    2. re: Karen

                      From my understanding, the worms/parasites die when frozen. ALOT of fish/seafood we eat in restaurants is "fresh frozen" though still claimed "fresh". I deal with an awesome fish monger in SF of whom would gladly answer alot of your questions. I'll give him a call and post back.

                    3. re: Lucy Gore

                      Maybe it comes from having lived in Africa for a couple of years, but I've adopted a fairly philosophical attitude toward disgusting things I find in my food. They say that when you've been in Kenya a week, you throw out the sugar that you find ants in. After you've been there a year, you take the ants out and continue using the sugar. They say that you've really adjusted when you put them back in when you're done.

                      The fact is - I don't know if it's a comfort or not - that we are constantly surrounded by germs, bugs and parasites all the time. Our food has more than most people realize. You basically have to learn to make peace with that and move on when you find an OCCASIONAL worm, piece of mold, etc. in your food. That said, you or your friend should definitely change fishmongers, butchers or whatever if you find too many of them.

                      Sorry that you and your husband had your dinners ruined. My recommendation is to have a stiff drink and a bowl of sherbert to get the taste of disgust out of your mouth.

                      1. re: fladd

                        Love the ants/sugar analogy. Some years ago, I brought home a pound of fresh hamachi, forgot about it in the fridge, and when I finally took a good look I had a few "friends". However, I've eaten many pounds of sashimi since. But then, as a kid I've accidently and intentionally eaten bugs...

                        I would recommend taking a long break from seafood for now, then revisiting it prepared in a totally different way.

              2. I once encountered the same problem, except this time I was the one grilling the flounder I had bought. The next day, I went back to my fishmonger and complained, and he just laughed at me and said: "We get the fish fresh from the Fulton Fish Market every day -- it's not our fault."

                I wasn't happy. I called the NYC Health Department. The consumer rep just laughed and said that a certain number of worms are permissible in fresh fish inspections. It probably wasn't the fishmonger's fault."