For many seafood lovers, sushi is the perfect meal: well-balanced, portable, and just as delicious to the eyes as to your taste buds.
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But then, there’s all things raw fish. How safe is that salmon sashimi, really? Registered dietitian Kate Patton, RD, shares the do’s and don’ts of sushi safety.
Is sushi safe?
Button says that raw fish poses some risks. “Sushi can contain parasites, as well as bacteria and viruses.”
Stories of tapeworms in sushi may seem like urban legends, but they can happen. The heat can kill the parasites in the fish, but this is not helpful for most raw sushi.
Severely frozen fish can also run into parasites, so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends freezing sushi fish below zero. (That’s less than a typical home freezer can get.)
But in practice, there is no real oversight of sushi chefs to make sure they take that step. “That’s why it’s important to choose a reputable restaurant,” Patton says.
You may also notice that some fish are labeled “sushi grade.” It looks great, doesn’t it? But again, there is no regulation of this claim, Patton warns. So take this label with a grain of salt (or a drop of soy sauce).
Parasites aside, sushi – like many foods – is susceptible to infection with bacteria or viruses if it is not made and stored properly. This means that it is up to you, as a consumer, to take steps to avoid something fishy:
Do some research
“If you’re dining out or eating out, look up the restaurant online to see if it’s reputable and gets positive reviews,” says Patton.
keep it cool
Store prepared sushi in the refrigerator at a temperature below 40 degrees. “If you’re buying sushi to go, take a tray from the bottom of the fridge, as the air tends to get cold,” Patton recommends.
Make sure it’s fresh
If you’re shopping at the grocery store, check sale dates to make sure the sushi is fresh. Many markets have sushi stations on site. If that’s an option, ask them to give you a new one.
Choose your fish
Freshwater fish such as yellow perch or trout are not safe to eat raw, so stick with saltwater types for sushi. “In terms of raw fish, tuna tends to be less susceptible to foodborne illness,” says Patton. “You can also order fish cooked in your sushi. Shrimp and lobster are usually cooked.”
Consider leaving it to the professionals
Do you dream of mastering the art of lap? Consider the source of the fish before you make your own spicy tuna roll. “If you live near water or have a local store that you know you can get good fresh fish that has been adequately frozen and stored, it can be safe,” Patton says.
“But unless you’re really diligent in checking where it came from and what temperature it was stored at, I’d be careful.” If you want to play it safe, practice making sushi from cooked seafood.
Sushi safety for people at risk: Should it be avoided?
Sushi can be a safe and delicious option. But some people should not take risks. Groups that you should avoid for sushi include:
- pregnant women.
- Young children or the elderly who may have a weakened immune system.
- People with immune diseases or who are taking immunosuppressive drugs.
Is sushi healthy?
When you’re keen, sushi has a lot going for it, nutritionally speaking. Fish (particularly fatty fish like tuna and salmon) are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. It is wrapped with rice, veggies, and seaweed, making it a well-balanced meal.
To boost your good-for-you factor, Patton says, try these tips:
- Ask for brown rice instead of white for whole grains.
- Don’t eat soy sauce, which is high in sodium.
- To keep calories and saturated fat in check, steer clear of fried fish rolls or fillings and toppings like cream cheese and spicy mayonnaise. For more heart-healthy flavor, stick with ginger and wasabi.
With a little care and planning, sushi can be a safe and satisfying way to roll.