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Expert warns of allergy risk over popular Setsubun festival food

An ehomaki sushi roll, packed with ingredients. The roll has become a popular dish for the annual Setsubun festival on Feb. 3. (Mainichi)

SAITAMA -- A type of sushi roll popular around the Setsubun festival on Feb. 3 can pose a serious food allergy risk, and consumers should be careful about what's inside the tasty treat, an expert has warned.

Chowing down on fat "ehomaki" sushi rolls packed with many topping types has in recent years become a favorite meal option on Setsubun, an annual festival held the day before the beginning of spring in the old lunar calendar. "Maki" sushi rolls containing soy beans or peanuts are also traditional favorites.

"Soybeans and peanuts are well known allergens, but ehomaki ingredients can easily become a blind spot," warned Ryoichi Morishige, a children's allergy educator and a senior staffer in the nursing department at the Saitama Citizens Medical Center in the city of Saitama, north of Tokyo.

On Setsubun in 2017, an adolescent boy was rushed to the medical center by ambulance. After eating ehomaki, he noticed a strange feeling in his throat and tightness in his chest. On the same day, a 1-year-old girl began experiencing trouble breathing and her face turned red after eating the sushi roll. She, too, was brought to the center. The boy could go home the same day, but the girl's condition was judged severe enough to warrant ongoing observation in hospital.

Both children's cases are thought to have been caused by ikura (salmon roe) in the ehomaki.

Another case occurred in 2018 in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, where an adolescent girl was taken to hospital by ambulance after eating a sushi roll. She was diagnosed with a food allergy.

Commercially sold ehomaki are filled with many types of ingredients, and customers are recommended not to slice them. However, that means buyers cannot see what is inside the rolls, creating a risk that someone may unwittingly consume an allergen.

Laws and regulations stipulate that seven common food allergens, including eggs and peanuts, must be listed on labels. However, this does not apply to food served at restaurants or dishes bought at food counters. Furthermore, the salmon roe that caused the 1-year-old's allergic reaction on Setsubun in 2017 is among 20 food items only recommended to be listed on labels.

(Japanese original by Yoshiko Tamura, Lifestyle News Department)

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