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Toxic Substances

At Indoor Environment Group we are constantly searching for the latest developments in the areas of health and safety and are always on the look out for misleading or misguided practices, procedures or rumors. With all the recent attention that "toxic mold" has received, we felt it was important to bring your attention to another very real toxic substance present in our environment. Yes, we're talking about toxic lutefisk.

Lutefisk (prounounced loo-ta-fisk) is made from air-dried whitefish (normally cod), prepared with lye, in a sequence of particular treatments. The first treatment is to soak the stockfish in cold water for five to six days (changed daily). The saturated stockfish is then soaked in an unchanged solution of cold water and lye for an additional two days. The fish will swell during this soaking, regaining a size even bigger than the original (undried) fish, but the protein content paradoxically decreases by more than 50 percent, causing its famous jelly-like consistency. When this treatment is finished, the fish (saturated with lye) has a pH value of 11–12, and is therefore corrosive. To make the fish edible, a final treatment of yet another four to six days (and nights) of soaking in cold water (also changed daily) is needed. Eventually, the lutefisk is ready to be cooked.

Lutefisk is pretty much what you'd expect of jellied cod; it is a foul and odiferous goo, whose gelatinous texture and rancid oily taste are locked in spirited competition to see which can be the more responsible for rendering the whole completely inedble.

How to describe that first bite? Its a bit like describing passing a kidneystone to the uninitiated. If you are talking to someone else who has lived through the experience, a nod will suffice to acknowledge your shared pain, but to explain it to the person who has not been there, mere words seem inadequate to the task.

Nowadays, akvavit and beer often accompany the meal due to its use at festive and ceremonial occasions (and many eaters, regardless of side dish preferences, will argue that these beverages complement the meal perfectly). For most, the beer and aquavit are an essential part of the meal.

To understand the relationship between aquavit and lutefisk, here's an experiment you can do at home. In addition to aquavit, you will need a slice of lemon, a cracker, a dishtowel, ketchup, a piece of lettuce, some caviar, and a Kit-Kat candy bar.

1. Take a shot aquavit.
2. Take two. (They're small.)
3. Put a bit of caviar on a bit of lettuce.
4. Put the lettuce on a cracker.
5. Squeeze some lemon juice on the caviar.
6. Pour some ketchup on the Kit-Kat bar.
7. Tie the dishtowel around your eyes.

If you can taste the difference between caviar on a cracker and ketchup on a Kit-Kat while blindfolded, you have not had enough aquavit to be ready for lutefisk. Return to step one.

Now what does this all have to do with us? As we were with the "toxic mold" myth, we have become concearned that many people fear lutefisk on the basis of rumors that the Environmental Protection Agency once classified lutefisk as a toxin. If they were not aware of that rumor many people hae come to that conclusion on their own just by simply hearing about the method of preparation, smelling the raw fish or, god forbid, actually eating some.

We are hear to put your fears to rest. Lutefisk is not a toxin. Curiously, it is also not seafood. We know these things thanks to the good folks in Wisconsin who have taken the time to put together legislation to once and for all dispell all these nasty rumors:

Chapter 29: Wild Animals and Plants

(d) "Seafood" means food sold fresh or frozen and commonly known as oysters, shrimp, lobsters, lobster tails, crabs, scallops, clams and other types of shell fish which are or can be lawfully taken for commercial purposes, but not any canned fish or fish known as lutefisk.

Chapter 101: Commerce
Chapter 101 Subch. I of Ch. 101101.58  

1. "Toxic substance" means any substance or mixture containing a substance regulated by the federal occupational safety and health administration under title 29 of the code of federal regulations part 1910, subpart z, which is introduced by an employer to be used, studied or produced in the workplace.

2. "Toxic substance" does not include:

a. Any article, including but not limited to an item of equipment or hardware, which contains a substance regulated by the federal occupational safety and health administration under title 29 of the code of federal regulations part 1910, subpart z, if the substance is present in a solid form which does not cause any acute or chronic health hazard as a result of being handled by an employee.

b. Any mixture containing a substance regulated under title 29 of the code of federal regulations part 1910, subpart z, if the substance is less than one percent, or, if the substance is an impurity, less than 2%, of the product.

c. Any consumer product packaged for distribution to and used by the general public, for which the employee's exposure during use is not significantly greater than the consumer's exposure occurring during the principal use of the product.

d. Any substance received by an employer in a sealed package and subsequently sold or transferred in that package, if the seal remains intact while the substance is in the employer's workplace.

e. Any waste material regulated under the federal resource conservation and recovery act, P.L. 94-580.

f. Lutefisk.

To order some lutefisk now - head to Mike's Lutefisk