People prefer not to think about these things, for obvious reasons, but there are lots of, well, extra ingredients in our food. On Saturday, a woman named Jennifer Morzano reportedly had a close encounter with one such unexpected additive at an Asbury Park, New Jersey, restaurant when a live worm came crawling out of the cod she was eating. The incident was filmed by her boyfriend Jim Guinee — they were there for his aunt’s 80th birthday — who posted the video to Facebook, which as you might guess provoked the ire of the owners of the restaurant, Stella Marina Bar and Restaurant.
Truthfully, it sounds like the restaurant did everything it could. Something like this could have happened to anybody, and Guinee tells the Washington Post they received an apology and their eight-person meal was comped. The restaurant said that it immediately stopped serving the dish, and Guinee also says he doesn’t hold this against Stella Marina. Guinee posted the video on Facebook not once, but twice on Saturday night, tagging the restaurant in both instances. The first post was shared only 15 times and viewed just under 3,000 times, while the second racked up nearly 2,000 shares and 200,000 views.
The exposure prompted a since-deleted response from Stella Marina, which wrote that it takes “every precaution” in preparing food and that a seafood purveyor “missed the small worms … located in the center of their piece of fish.” It also took umbrage with Guinee, describing his actions as the “irresponsible reaction of an attorney of law to attempt to destroy our reputation & possible livelihoods.” After taking that post down, Stella Marina put up another post on Monday signed by its owner Joe Cetrulo, who says this was the first incident in its ten years of business that cod has been removed from the menu.
There is a reason that modern food safety is so rigorous and that restaurants serving, for example, raw shellfish have to put warnings on their menus. Other things eat our food, too, and sometimes those things are dangerous for us to consume. Bobbi Pritt, director of the clinical parasitology laboratory at the Mayo Clinic, identified the creature to the Post as likely a parasitic roundworm called an anisakid, writing, “they are, unfortunately, a fact of life.”
Pritt also adds that the live worm indicated the fish had not been fully cooked, at least according to U.S.D.A. standards of a 145-degree internal temperature. Government guidelines like this are, of course, paternalistic in that they are motivated by eliminating risk at whatever cost, even a sea of desiccated cod fillets. This can be at odds with a chef’s motivation to do her job of, well, cooking good food.
Parasitic worms are common in fish — ask any chef who has butchered a swordfish! — and error means some will slip through and onto the dinner plate. As the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization told the Post, this does not automatically mean that a restaurant made a mistake.