Recent news reports of a Gold Coast sushi restaurant being fined $15,000 for unhygienic food practices, brings the question of sushi safety into the news again.
“(Sushi) is low in calories and fat, very high in vitamins and minerals, but because sushi preparation is hands on and the ingredients – raw fish, vinegar rice and chicken – are notorious for harbouring nasty bacteria, sushi is a potentially dangerous mouthful of bugs,” says food safety expert Rachelle Williams.
Australia has food safety guidelines for the preparation and storage of sushi, including food handling, cutting risks of cross-contamination, temperature, time and rice acidity controls, as well as record keeping.
Different foods vary in their susceptibility to contamination at different temperatures. Both raw fish and rice carry quite high risk of contamination. The most important control measures for ensuring the safe production of sushi involve using high quality ingredients, taking care with storage, transportation and handling, and ensuring that sushi is cooled and acidified appropriately.
“Ideally all sushi should be maintained at 5°C or below. If sushi is to be stored or displayed at temperatures between 5°C and 60°C a documented time control system should be in place to ensure the ‘4 hour/2 hour’ rule is being effectively applied.”
This means that sushi displayed above 5°C must be consumed after two hours, or discarded after four hours. (Queensland Health)
So, how safe is sushi? and how can we be sure that our sushi is contaminant free?
Let’s look firstly at the ways the sushi needs to be made, transported and stored to avoid contamination:
- Sushi should be made from sashimi grade fish.
- Fish needs to be thawed at a low temperature in sterile conditions on the day of use.
- Rice needs to be cooled quickly to avoid contamination.
- Rice needs to remain at an acidity level of pH 4.6 or less, achieved through the addition of vinegar.
- Rice and raw fish need to be handled separately to avoid cross-contamination. Many restaurants use different coloured chopping boards and/or different work stations for different ingredients to avoid cross-contamination.
- Ideally, sushi ingredients and final product should remain at or below 5 degrees centigrade.
- Records should be kept of pH of rice, temperature of stored rice and sushi, temperature of displayed sushi, time control system used, time each batch of sushi was made, as well as tracking times of sushi on display.
- If the sushi rice is mass produced and transported from elsewhere (as is the case with some major chain sushi train restaurants), temperature, handling and time documentation becomes even more vital.
What steps can we take to buy the freshest, safest sushi? Here are our tips:
- Buy from a store with high turnover where sushi is made directly in front of you. Eat sushi freshly placed on the sushi train or order directly from the menu.
- Better still, eat from a restaurant which prepares fresh sushi. The cost is worth it!
- Check that all surfaces including walls, floor, tables, containers and glass are clean.
- Check that hand washing facilities are in sight, that staff wear plastic gloves which they change between handling different ingredients, that sushi mats are wrapped in cling wrap and regularly changed.
- Check that the sushi looks fresh, fish glossy, not dull or dry and that older plates of sushi are taken away. Remember that you cannot tell if sushi is safe or not by looking closely at it or smelling it.
- Can you see someone recording data as they put sushi on the train? (Good luck with that one! We haven’t seen it yet!)
- If in doubt, ask the retailer when the sushi was made, how long it has been on display, and how they prepare sushi to make sure it is safe to eat.
- Be aware that sushi on a train is covered but not refrigerated. By the same token, refrigerated sushi may not be fresh!
- If you buy sushi to take away, buy it early in the day, put it immediately into the fridge, to be eaten as soon as possible.
- Don’t risk eating raw fish if you’re pregnant or have a compromised immune system.
Sushi is one of the lowest calorie, high protein convenience foods, however it needs to be prepared and treated with care. If in doubt, play safe!
For further reading visit the following sites:
Sushi Safety (Qld Health fact sheet)
Sushi handling and microbiological quality (NSW Food Authority)
Here are some of our favourite ‘sushi’ outlets (added to by our helpful Facebook friends!):
Reef seafood & Sushi, Ferry Road Markets (top quality)
Master Sushi, Sorrento
Mr. Sushi, Ashmore (one of my personal weekday favourites because of the range of food available at a reasonable price: agedashi tofu, gyoza, tempura, edaname, karaage, takoyaki and don meals $10 – $17)
O-Sushi, Broadbeach & Coolangatta (upmarket – not just a sushi train, but a great range of Japanese tapas too, with wonderful ambience and top service)
Sushi on James, Burleigh Heads
Sushi Train, Benowa Gardens, Broadbeach, Harbourtown, Miami
Restaurants serving sushi (where you will get a more authentic traditional sushi experience):
Amimoto, Surfers Paradise
Donto Sapporo, Broadbeach
Itoshin, Mermaid Beach (review coming soon)
Misono, Surfers Paradise
Wassam, Surfers Paradise
Yamagen, Surfers Paradise