Kenny Kunene celebrates his birthday party at his upmarket ZAR club in Sandton. Food and health experts have raised safety concerns about the emerging trend of eating sushi off human bodies.

Purveyors of the art of “body sushi” and those who enjoy nibbling the Japanese delicacies off half-naked women may be biting off more than they would like to chew, warn experts.

It’s a safety hazard, they say of the practice that has been all the rage - and cause of rage - after “Sushi king” Kenny Kunene’s antics ensured it made the front pages of SA newspapers.

The flashy businessman’s new ZAR nightclubs - one is set to open in Durban in June - featured sushi being eaten off the bodies of scantily clad models, described by Kunene as “plates”.

But health regulatory bodies fear Kunene’s attempts at imitating the ancient Japanese custom of Nyotaimori may have already culminated in a “risky trend”, while food and other health experts have also weighed in on the issue.

“Healthy adult human skin normally carries a resident population of bacteria and yeasts,” said Professor John Frean of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. “The health risks of eating off clean, healthy skin are small, but I do not encourage the practice.”

Pathogenic bacteria - disease-causing bacteria - is found on warm, sweaty areas of the human body, he said.

“There is also a transient population of various other bacteria, depending on the person’s occupation, personal hygiene and environmental conditions. These might sometimes include more pathogenic species.”

Owen Frisby, executive director of the South African Association for Food Science and Technology, said if the model wore a hair net and safety boots, was tested by a doctor, disinfected with chlorine and in a temperature-regulated area, “then it would be fine”.

“But one doesn’t know how clean her body is. She could have the flu or, even worse, hepatitis. This poses a huge risk if it is not correctly regulated,” he said.

“We should consider the mental health of those involved - and not just the safety hazards,” Frisby said. “This is absolutely ridiculous.”

Professor Yunus Moosa of the Department of Infectious Diseases at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said those who indulged in this practice should be “prudent” about the surface off which they’re eating.

Just as a plate left out gathered bacteria, hge said, so too was there a good chance that residual bacteria would be found on the surface of a human body.

Roy Roos, manager of food and health standards at the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), said: “We don’t have any standards governing this sort of thing and there certainly aren’t any studies written on it.

“But there’s quite a variety of bacteria that can be found on raw fish (sushi).

“Most such bacteria are harmless but bacteria on fish can become harmful if warmed above room temperature. This would also cause the bacteria to multiply.

“I advise that sushi be kept chilled,” he said.

Veteran Japanese chef Watchara Siravajanukul, owner of Green Mango, a Thai/Japanese restaurant in Greyville, said the practice of “body sushi” was becoming increasingly popular.

“Recently a customer asked me to create body sushi for her husband’s birthday party,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with it. It is not unclean, because the sushi is placed on leaves - not directly on the body.”

But there were “several rules for this kind of thing, otherwise people get a bit naughty”, said Siravajanukul.

“You cannot touch the bodies; you have to use chopsticks to pick up the food and you can touch only the food.”

Asked if he would prepare “body sushi” as a regular “platter” for his patrons, Siravajanukul hastily replied: “No, it is for private functions only.”

Kunene, whose culinary style was recently ridiculed by the ANC and gender activists, could not be reached for comment. And the manager of his ZAR lounge in Sandton, Wayne Buckley, declined to comment. - Daily News