Anyone who knows me knows that sushi is my all-time favorite food. I will eat any sushi, but I tend to gravitate towards the deep-fried, cream cheese filled rolls because “go big or go home!”
For people who are not quite the sushi connoisseur I am, sushi is often equated to raw fish. However, the Japanese word sushi just means “seasoned rice.” Sushi is typically a bite-sized combination of seasoned rice and an assortment of fish, vegetables, sauces, and seasonings.
Although I consume sushi frequently, one thing I neglect to consider when I enjoy my favorite dish is food safety. Specific populations are more susceptible to foodborne illness, including children, the elderly, pregnant women and the immune suppressed. Although sushi can be risky, as long as preparation follows the regulations set by the US Food and Drug Administration, and local and state regulations, it is safe to consume.
Whether it is dine-in, store-bought, or homemade, below are some of the factors that could make sushi unsafe for consumption:
Uncooked seafood: raw fish may contain bacteria that could lead to illness after consumption. Cooking fish to an internal temperature of 145 degrees can destroy any bacteria that may be harboring on that piece of fish and significantly reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Further, skipping protein altogether and ordering sushi with just raw vegetables is the safest option
Cross-contamination: all of the ingredients in sushi have the risk of being contaminated along the chain from the fisherman to your plate; further, without the cooking process, there is even more of a risk of contamination. It is important to keep raw seafood below 41 degrees and cooked food above 135 degrees to minimize this risk.
Sushi rice: to reduce the risk of causing illness, sushi rice must be kept at refrigerator temperatures. An experienced sushi chef is knowledgeable enough to determine the appropriate amount of acidity to keep rice at the right pH to keep it safe outside of this temperature, but best practice is to keep it around 41 degrees.
Parasites: sushi that has been previously frozen is safer for consumption than fresh fish as the freezing process should destroy any parasites that may be in the fish naturally. A quality sushi restaurant will have purchased their sushi from a supplier that properly freezes their fish. Additionally, certain fish are not prone to parasites, and therefore it is not necessary to keep them frozen; this list includes molluscan shellfish, yellowfin, Bluefin, bigeye, albacore, blackfin and some farm-raised salmon. If you are purchasing your own fish to be consumed raw in the home, make sure to ask whether it has been properly frozen. If you are consuming cooked fish or purchasing fish to cook at home, the cooking process should also destroy parasites and bacteria, although it is still important to use caution when handling fish after freezing and thawing.
Poor personal hygiene: Chefs should be practicing good personal hygiene while preparing your sushi—this includes washing their hands, wearing gloves, using sanitized clothes and cleaning and sanitizing their utensils and cutting boards frequently.
Ready to eat sushi: If you are purchasing ready to eat sushi, be sure to take a look at the sell-by date. Sushi should be eaten the day of purchase
Sodium content: depending on what you order, your sushi could be very high in sodium. If you are watching your sodium go for sushi that does not contain fish eggs, artificial “crab” meat, and sauces. A California style roll without sauce is your safest bet!
So if you love sushi, don’t be afraid to eat it! It can be done safely with the proper precautions!