Yale Daily News

Shortly after finishing brunch last Saturday, a Yale undergraduate — who requested that her name not be included in the article to protect her privacy — was not feeling well. She figured she had eaten too much food.

But when she looked down at her plate, she saw a small, brown, worm-like creature coiled underneath some scrambled eggs.

And then it moved.

After reviewing a video of the specimen posted on the Facebook group “Overheard at Yale,” School of Medicine professor of pediatric infectious diseases, microbiology and public health Michael Cappello identified the organism as a third-stage larva of the nematode parasite Anisakis simplex — a specimen that medication cannot kill.

“Eating a live Anisakis larva can sometimes lead to gastric distress, nausea, vomiting, ulcers and allergic reactions due to the body’s inflammatory response to the invading worm,” he told the News on Wednesday night.

If consumed and left untreated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the parasite will eventually die and produce an inflamed mass in the esophagus, stomach or intestine that may require surgical removal.

Connecticut health safety regulations state that fish must be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit in order to kill any unwanted bacteria or parasites. If cooked to a safe temperature, Cappello said the parasite that the Yale undergraduate found slithering on her plate would have been dead.

After the News informed Yale Dining Operations Director Robert Sullivan about the organism’s identity, Sullivan emphasized his team’s dedication to food safety.

“We are reviewing our current practices as it relates to handling fresh fish. This means freezing fish from 24 to 72 hours or cooking it to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 10 minutes,” he said. “In this case, it appears that adequate cooking procedures might not have taken place. We are investigating the incident at Silliman.”

Sullivan added that he is unable to make further comment until the investigation is completed.

Still, in an initial interview with the News — before Cappello had identified the organism as a parasite — Sullivan defended Yale Dining’s food handling techniques.

“[The organism’s] not dangerous,” he said. “It’s natural, it’s recurring and it happens all the time.”

“We want to cook everything to 140, but of course, you know, you can eat seafood raw,” he added. “People do it all the time with sushi, but we still like to cook it to 140, even though you don’t necessarily have to.”

Sullivan explained that the cod — which Yale receives fresh from the North Atlantic — is “really wormy right now,” and that “there’s nothing more natural than worms in fish.” According to a 2011 study conducted in Norway, 87 percent of all wild cod that researchers found contained Anisakis simplex. When killed by heating the fish to the proper temperature, the worms are harmless in humans.

Still, while the student did not ingest the parasite, the incident has made her more wary of Yale Dining’s cooking practices.

“I ate in Silliman almost every day this semester,” the student said to the News. “I don’t think I’ll be able to do that anymore. I definitely won’t be eating the cod.”

The World Health Organization estimated that over 880 million children are in need of treatment for intestinal worms.

Matt Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu

  • MaryFinelli

    Even if they can be killed do you really want to be eating dead parasites? Also, cooking/freezing might not kill parasite eggs. They are but one of the many problems with consuming fish: mercury, dioxins, PCBs, microplastics, antibiotics, parasiticides and other toxic chemicals, cholesterol, saturated fat, etc. All of the nutrients derived from fish, and from other animals, can be obtained more healthfully, humanely, and environmentally responsibly from plant sources. Why harm animals and endanger your own health when there’s no need to do so?

  • MaryFinelli

    There are marvelous vegan versions of virtually every type of food imaginable, including seafood: http://www.FishFeel.org/seafood

    • CarlHarmonica

      I would prefer the parasite

      • MaryFinelli

        Much of the food you already eat no doubt is vegan. You just don’t realize it. It’s doubtful you’ve ever even tried vegan seafood, though. Try closing your mouth and opening your mind.

    • boboadobo

      vegetables, fruits etc also contain bugs, worms spiders, rat droppings, etc…are covered in pesticide and fertilizer(even the “organic” ones) fruits and vegetables are also a great source of hepatis, Rotavirus, salmonella, e coli etc…and being a vegan is not healthy!

      • MaryFinelli

        Insects, dirt, etc., can generally be washed off of fruits and vegetables, as can many pesticides. Parasites, in contrast, tend to be embedded in meat and cannot simply be washed off. Pesticides and other toxic chemicals bioaccumulate in the flesh of animals and are consumed in concentrated doses by those who eat them. Virulent strains of salmonella, E. coli, etc. are generated in the intensively confined animals who are subjected to the stressful conditions of factory farms. So if these are your concerns it’s all the more reason to opt for a vegan diet, which can also be much healthier than one that includes animals/animal products:

        Per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the United States’ largest organization of food and nutrition professionals: “appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage. Vegetarians and vegans are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity. Low intake of saturated fat and high intakes of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, soy products, nuts, and seeds (all rich in fiber and phytochemicals) are characteristics of vegetarian and vegan diets that produce lower total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and better serum glucose control. These factors contribute to reduction of chronic disease.”

  • Christian Blanchard

    Welp never eating fish again.

  • concerned citizen

    “Shortly after finishing brunch last Saturday, a Yale undergraduate — who requested that her name not be included in the article to protect her privacy — was not feeling well. She figured she had eaten too much food.”

    Ok man, let me guess. You’re a hotshot young attractive journalist who thinks he can waltz on into the OLDEST. MOST PRESTIGIOUS. college daily and say whatever he wants for ‘clicks’ and ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ and ‘tweetches.’ I get it.

    But this is shameful, sensational content that I will just not stand idly by, and accept. You’re implying that she ingested the worm by stating that she ‘was not feeling well,’ but evidently she hadn’t eaten it yet. I expect the UTMOST integrity, honesty, responsibility, discipline, and synergy from this paper, but if you cannot meet these standards I will happily take my business elsewhere, perhaps to the ‘Notes from Woodbridge Hall’ or ‘Breitbart News.’ Maybe I’ll start my own college daily.

    I want you to know that you’ve made an enemy, Matt Kristofferson. I will not hesitate to comment on another one of your articles in a similar fashion if my demands are not met.


    concerned citizen

    • stan miller

      Maybe two worms in the fish and the second one was in her tummy.

  • SVV

    Rather cavalier of Dining Operations Director Robert Sullivan to respond to this with “[the organism’s] not dangerous. It’s natural, it’s recurring and it happens all the time … you know, you can eat seafood raw. People do it all the time with sushi.”