A family dining at a seaside restaurant on the New Jersey coast got an unpleasant surprise when, they said, a live worm slithered out of their food.
Jim Guinee, from Middletown, posted a video Saturday on Facebook, which he said showed the creature — confirmed by an expert as a likely parasitic roundworm — crawling out of a piece of cod that his girlfriend, Jennifer Morzano, had been eating at Stella Marina Bar and Restaurant in Asbury Park. Guinee said that they were celebrating his aunt’s 80th birthday.
“That is a live worm that just crawled out of the food,” he said in the video, showing the pink-colored critter wiggling on the plate. “Dinner has come to life.”
The restaurant could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday by The Washington Post but said on Facebook that it has stopped serving the dish while appearing to criticize Guinee after he called attention to the problem.
Guinee said that his girlfriend, who had eaten about half of the cod at dinner Saturday night, was cutting around some of the skin on the fish when the uninvited guest emerged from her food.
“She was shocked and she wasn’t sure what it was,” he said, noting that his girlfriend “had never encountered live parasites in her food before.”
Guinee said the restaurant compensated them and that he held no ill will toward the establishment, but he posted the video on Facebook and tagged the restaurant in an attempt to warn others about possible parasitic worms.
But the negative attention prompted the restaurant to push back. In a Facebook post about the incident, the restaurant said it takes “every precaution while preparing and cooking meals for the public.” The post has since been taken down.
“With that being said, one of our seafood purveyors did send us Saturdays cod and missed the small worms that were found by two of our guests, located in the center of their piece of fish,” it added. “We immediately halted serving this dish. We also compensated the family of 8 generously and expressed our sincere concern and apologies that one our guests had anything less than an amazing experience at our restaurant.”
Then the restaurant called out Guinee, an attorney, saying it was “very surprised at the callousness and irresponsible reaction of an attorney of law to attempt to destroy our reputation & possible livelihoods due to something that could have happened to anyone, whether cooking at home or in a restaurant.”
And Guinee said that he, in turn, was surprised by the restaurant’s response.
“If I were a plumber, would they have attacked me as ‘a callous plumber?’ ” he said. “It seemed like they were trying to divert attention rather than address the issue.”
Bobbi Pritt, director of the Clinical Parasitology Laboratory in the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, said the worm is “almost certainly” an anisakid — a parasitic roundworm that feeds on fish and marine mammals and, when ingested alive by humans, can cause disease.
“It looks like they are eating cod, which would have been the source of the worm,” Pritt wrote in an email to The Post after reviewing the footage. “Anisakids are commonly called ‘cod worms’ because they are frequently found in cod,” though Pritt added that the worms can also be found in salmon, mackerel and other fish. “They are, unfortunately, a fact of life.”
That’s why, Pritt said, that “it is essential that fish be prepared properly to kill any worms that are present.”
As the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization states, parasitic roundworms are common in fish.
“No matter how carefully fish is inspected by processors, caterers and retailers, some worms will occasionally be discovered in fish by the consumer,” the organization said. It added: “It should therefore be emphasized that the presence of worms in fish offered for sale does not imply carelessness or bad practice on the part of the processor or retailer.”
But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends cooking raw fish until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. The FDA states that fish that is eaten raw, such as sushi, should be frozen either in a standard freezer at minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit for seven days or in a commercial freezer at minus-31 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-24 hours to kill any parasites.
“Given that there was a live worm in the fish, it is safe to say that the fish had not been fully cooked, thus allowing the worm to survive,” Pritt said in the email.
Anisakids can cause a parasitic disease called Anisakiasis — when then worms take up residence in a human’s stomach wall or intestines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC states that when people ingest larvae from raw or undercooked infected fish, the parasite can travel to the person’s gut. The CDC added that “some people experience a tingling sensation after or while eating raw or undercooked fish or squid. This is actually the worm moving in the mouth or throat. These people can often extract the worm manually from their mouth or cough up the worm and prevent infection. Also, some people experience vomiting as a symptom and this can often expel the worm from the body.”
Other symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and diarrhea — sometimes with blood in the stool, according to the CDC.
Guinee called it “a pretty gross experience,” saying he was “concerned that Jen could possibly get sick.” But so far, he said, she seems fine.