Sushi and food safety Westchester NY
Sushi is a traditional Japanese food that has been incorporated into the American cuisine, and as it has grown in popularity throughout the country, the health authorities in states and municipalities have had to grapple with the issue of food safety. Sushi is a Japanese word that means “seasoned rice.” And it is the sushi rice that concerns many health officials. The concern for health officials is the growth of bacteria that will normally begin growing in food held at room temperature within 2 hours.
Preparing sushi involves a great deal of handling of both raw and cooked foods. Because sushi is eaten without any further cooking it is important that it is prepared correctly and safely. Raw foods can contain bacteria and, if not handled correctly, the numbers of bacteria can grow.
Sushi is safe to eat as long as it has been prepared properly. … Sushi lovers need not fret about the raw fish they consume, food scientists say, as long as the sushi has been prepared properly according to regulations by the Food and Drug Administration.
It’s always best to cook seafood thoroughly to minimize the risk of foodborne illness. However, if you choose to eat raw fish anyway, one rule of thumb is to eat fish that has been previously frozen. Some species of fish can contain parasites, and freezing will kill any parasites that may be present.
The idea of getting sushi or sashimi fresh from the ocean may sound like a good thing, but this isn’t always the case. Tuna, however, is one fish that is relatively safe to eat raw without freezing it first, but not without a small risk to your safety.
In the United States, very few people die from eating sushi. Death from eating bad sushi is usually attributed to fugu, a type of poisonous fish rarely eaten in the United States. People do get sick from eating sushi, but the cause for illness is usually poorly handled fish. An example of this occurred earlier this year with a Salmonella outbreak caused by raw tuna. Salmonella is caused when food is exposed to feces. It is highly likely that the fish processor, in China or Indonesia, washed the tuna with dirty water. Raw fish to be used in sushi must be handled with care. Salmonella bacteria will not die if the fish is frozen, it will only stop growing.
A guide was released in 2004 through the Association of Food and Drug Officials, which had spent 3 years studying food safety and sushi operations. This was a special project funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative State Research and Extension at the University of Florida. This guide is called “Guidance for Processing Sushi in Retail Operations.” It is a thorough and complete explanation of the processes needed to make safe sushi in any retail or commercial setting. On page 8 of this guide, it states: “Properly acidified rice is not considered a potentially hazardous food.”
Another requirement for most sushi bars today is an HACCP plan. The HACCP plan will document the risks involved with making sushi and make note of the need for rice acidification. The seasoned vinegar added to sushi rice acidifies it. The pH must be maintained below 4.6. Acidified rice is considered, in most places, to be considered potentially nonhazardous.
In fact, sushi rice is not a food hazard if it is made correctly. The preparation of sushi rice is different than regular rice. After the rice is steamed, it is cooled for a short time; seasoned rice vinegar is then mixed in with the cooked rice. It is the responsibility of the sushi chef to check the pH level of the rice using litmus paper or a pH testing monitor. The pH level is recorded in a pH log. This pH log is a tool for the local health official to check on the safety of the sushi rice.
In Connecticut, as a sushi bar operator and sushi supplier, our company has had to deal with the lack of a state-wide accurate policy on sushi rice safety. This lack of a coherent policy has made the actions of local health officials subjective about sushi rice. A sushi chef in one health district is met with differing requirements from a health district in the next county. Some examples of subjective decisions by health inspectors include:
1) A health inspector stated that after 2 hours at room temperature, the sushi rice had to be discarded.
2) A different health inspector insisted that sushi rice had to be held at 41 °F while making sushi.
3) A third health inspector insisted that the rice had to be above 135 °F at all times during the sushi-making process.
These were clear examples of how the lack of a state-wide food safety policy for sushi rice leads to confusion for the sushi chef trained in rice acidification. In fact, with all the discussion about sushi rice, the fragility of fish at room temperature was never mentioned in any of these situations.