Has anyone ever told you that eating a certain type of food will make you sick? Mostly what they mean is that down the road, that pizza you just ate may cause you some kind of health problem. But there are foods that can make you sick shortly after eating them. I am not even talking about food that has gone bad, but something that people often eat fresh. Escolar, also known as Oilfish, is a type of fish that many consider to be quite tasty, but in truth it is not good for you. Being a popular fish in some circles it is common to find escolar in restaurants, especially sushi bars. Even with it being openly served you should always take caution while eating this fish.
The main issue with escolar is that it has a lot of oils within its flesh. Unfortunately we have been trained to believe that all fish oils are good for you, but not all fish oils are Omega-3 oils. Escolar is full of what is called wax-esters. These are a type of oil that are inedible and the human stomach will not absorb it, but instead attempt to flush the system. The result is the consumer of the fish may experience a mild to severe case of steatorrhea. In layman’s terms, you could have a very bad case of diarrhea. This onset could be so rapid that you could have symptoms within an hour of eating escolar. The way the wax-esters get flushed through the body could result in anal leakage and accidental soiling of one self. The steatorrhea can last from 2-36 hours, depending on how much you ate and on each individual case. Most people will chock up a case of this to basic food poisoning, but if you have these symptoms every time you eat sushi, then you may know the answer to why it is happening to you.
It is not as simple to avoid escolar by just not ordering it. Escolar is one of the most common subjects of food labeling fraud in the US and in the world. The main reason is that escolar is relatively cheap and some consumers cannot tell the difference between tuna and escolar. It is such an issue, that escolar has been known to imitate or fraudulently replace dozens of fish. The following fish are only an example of what escolar can be disguised as or called by: Albacore Tuna, Waloo, Chilean Sea Bass, Grouper, King Tuna (aka blue fin tuna), Black Cod, Butterfish, Blue Cod, Rudderfish, Pacific Cod and Atlantic Cod. It is usually a less than reputable or a cheap establishment that may pull the wool over your eyes and feed you this fish instead of the real fish that you requested. But it is a common issue, as in 2009 5/9 New York restaurants who served Albacore Tuna were actually replacing it with escolar. Sometimes the chefs themselves may not know that they are being given bad product, but most of the time it is the business trying to make an extra dollar over this bait and switch tactic. So if you have the runs after every time you eat at your favorite sushi spot, then you should consider the idea that you may not be eating what you actually ordered.
For the most part the only major issue with labeling fraud is that you may unexpectedly have to use the bathroom, but there are other issues that can be more serious. With labeling scams, a consumer may accidentally consume a type of fish that they are allergic to. Most people who that will happen to may break out in a rash, but some people may have a more serious reaction that can lead to anaphylaxis and possibly even death. Even with this risk, the FDA refuses to look into cases of mislabeled food, stating that they do not have the resources to enforce any regulations on labels. So what should you do? First of all try and avoid places that you suspect of such practices. If you have symptoms of steatorrhea then take note on where you ate, and if the symptoms arise again after eating there, then avoid the restaurant. There are also certain guidelines that you can follow to avoid getting sick from escolar. You should limit your consumption to 6oz per portion, and try to only eat the meat closest to the tail. The method of cooking or storage of escolar has no effect on the wax-esters in the meat. But, be warned that even with the precautions, you are still at risk of having an accident because you ate escolar.
In the image Escolar is on the left, Albacore Tuna is on the right.
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