What you might not know about your spicy tuna roll

Spicy tuna. It’s that sushi bar staple of ground tuna mixed with spicy goodness and wrapped in noori and rice. Dip it in some wasabi-infused soy sauce, and you’re on the bullet train to Yum City.

What you probably don’t know about this dish is that its main ingredient is called “tuna scrape.” Scrape is the meat left behind on the tuna’s skeleton after the fillet has been removed. It’s separated (or “scraped”) from the bone, usually in a factory in Asia, sealed in air-tight bags and shipped to your local sushi restaurant.

Imported tuna scrape has been linked to hundreds of illnesses and hospitalizations in the U.S. One of the largest of these outbreaks happened in 2012, when 425 people got salmonella from the stuff.

But it’s not just grossly-named seafood imports that are making us sick. Outbreaks of all kinds have been linked to imported fruit, vegetables and fish, and the numbers have increased dramatically over the last 10 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

This comes as Americans are eating more imported food than ever before. The amount of food imported into the U.S. has nearly quadrupled since the 1990’s, according to government statistics. As a result, between 15 to 20 percent of the food we eat comes from other countries. In some categories, the percentage is much higher. 80 percent of our fish comes from abroad, as well as 50 percent of our fruit and vegetables. Nearly every banana you eat in the U.S. comes from somewhere else.

But the FDA, the federal agency charged with making sure much of our imported food is safe, inspects as little as two percent of these products.

This week on Shortwave, we speak with David Plunkett of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He questions the agency’s approach. We also hear from Douglas Stearn, the FDA’s Director of the Office of Enforcement and Import operations. Stearn says that “random sampling isn’t going to be very effective, given the volume of product that we have to deal with.”

Stearn lays out the FDA’s strategy of partnering with foreign governments and food producers, to keep the U.S. food supply safe.