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How safe is sushi from a decent sushi restaurant?

Hi -

Whenever I go to a sushi restaurant I see people eating every type of food on the menu and eating tons of it (rolls and sushimi).

I want to know, just how safe is it to consume raw fish? Should I be afraid every time I eat tuna/salmon/yellow tail/striped bass/uni etc etc etc that I am going to get ill from bacteria or become a host from a parasite?

I love sushi, but I just wanted to know if any of you fellow chowhounders had any input as to just how safe it is to eat chunks of raw fish, regardless if it is a very high end place, or just a very good, "very fresh" neighborhood joint.

THANK YOU!!!

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  1. I'm a huge sushi fan, but of course I apply a healthy dose of common sense when eating it.

    If the place isn't squeaky clean and presentable, I walk.
    If the sushi area doesn't look clean and organized, I walk.
    If the fish doesn't look, feel, or smell fresh, I walk.

    But then again, I apply those rules to any restaurant where I dine. I've only gotten sick once in over 20 years of eating sushi, and it was from grocery-store sushi. I'll never make THAT mistake again.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Suzy Q

      Same experience Suzy Q and unfortunately, on Christmas Eve. My wonderful husband had brought me home a sushi lunch from our local grocery store... a treat... Luckily, it was a lunch only for me!

    2. When I go to a Japanese restaurant to eat sushi, I take a good look at the sushi bar where the chefs are working. Look at the condition of the fish, how it is kept, how it is handled. Use your eyes and your nose to scope it out.
      If I don't feel that the place is "clean"...and that covers a lot of areas, I'm not risking it. And my own personal prejudice is that I prefer to eat sushi at an authentic Japanese restaurant, not a Chinese or Korean restaurant that also serves sushi.
      I know others will disagree, which is fine, I've said it's my own personal prejudice.
      If I'm eating something that depends on a high level of skill to prepare properly, I have more trust in someone who is a "specialist".
      High turnover is key, you know there's a better probability that the food is fresh.
      "High end" places or "joints", they both have their charm. If it's a neigborhood place that is always busy, chances are they are doing something right.

      1. I'll go out on a limb and say this......

        People who enjoy Sushi and Sashimi have have no concerns at their favorite spots or elsewhere.....

        People who do not eat Sushi or Sashimi.........it does not matter......

        I believe all Sushi Grade Fish is supposed to be frozen to -4* F to kill all bacteria or parasites......before it can be sold a Sushi Grade.

        7 Replies
        1. re: fourunder

          Yes, fish that is to be served raw, as well as cold-smoked fish, should be deep frozen first, according to FDA guidelines. However, I'm not sure those guidelines are enforced very strictly. I recently even saw a purveyor of cold-smoked fish advertising that their product is never frozen. I'd be interested to hear from anyone in the business who could speak to how closely these guidelines are actually followed, especially in restaurants, which are inspected by local health boards but not the FDA obviously.

          1. re: Low Country Jon

            I took a sushi course from a Japanese sushi chef and he insisted the tuna be frozen for 48 hours before sushi preparation, if that helps. His english wasn't great, but from what I understand tuna is a source of parasites, and that salmon is safe from parasites. Salmon does not need to be frozen before preparing sushi.

            I have been eating sushi regularly for almost 20 years and have never been sick. Like posted here, use common sense and go to well-run, clean sushi restaurants. Avoid cheap sushi or sushi buffets.

            1. re: sweeterpea

              Salmon are not safe from parasites. You must have misunderstood the chef.

              1. re: sweeterpea

                actually, other way around, i think. salmon is a freshwater fish and is more likely to host parasites that are harmful to humans (i.e. roundworm). traditionally, sushi chefs didn't serve freshwater fish for that reason. these days, chefs freeze freshwater fish to kill the parasites.

                (as an extra tidbit: dogs are also supposed to avoid salmon from the northwest because of a different kind of parasite that affects them, but not humans.)

                1. re: cimui

                  Salmon are anadromous, neither exclusively saltwater nor freshwater. They hatch in freshwater, swim to the sea to live most of their lives, then return to freshwater to spawn and die. Anadromous fish are particularly prone to parasites.

                  1. re: ricepad

                    very interesting, ricepad. do you know why that's so? (i'd think that freshwater parasites would die in salt water.. but maybe the innards of anadromous fish are a nice, salt free living environment?)

                2. re: sweeterpea

                  You've got that reversed: Tuna is safe, salmon isn't.

            2. I've been eating sushi (su = vinigared, shi = cooked rice) for (as of yesterday!) 58 years. Have been eating sashimi for a bit less. Have never gotten sick from sashimi or sushi with raw seafood. And I made sashimi for years with fish that hadn't been deep frozen when I lived in SE Asia.

              I have, however, gotten into various driving accidents when younger, have drank way too much, have had way too much fun... all of which have turned out to be much more dangerous than sashimi.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                Happy belated, Sam! Many happy returns!

                I too, as others posting, have never had a whiff of problems with sashimi or sushi (in fact, it seems to sit better with me than anything). The attention paid to the storage and prep is far superior to, say, the potato salad in most diners or the neighborhood's potluck picnic (still love those, too, however...just not as lucky on that particular roulette spin.)

                The sake, though, IS another issue!

                Hope you had a wonderful birthday,
                Cay

              2. Thanks for all the quick replys. I've never heard of anyone getting a parasite, which makes me think that it is rare (if it even happens), however, if someone did get one, or got very ill, I doubt they would go around announcing it to everyone, so it goes both ways. Anyways, again, thanks, and if anyone reading this has anything else to add please do so.

                I'm off to get some sushi.

                3 Replies
                1. re: gms256

                  Not as rare as you might think - just unpleasant enough that most don't talk about it...It can also take awhile for symptoms to show. And its not just sushi/sashimi!
                  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/08/hea...

                  1. re: meatn3

                    Article has NOTHING to do with sushi/sashimi.

                    Most parasites are very host specific. Most that are adapted to deep-sea fish are not adapted to mammals.

                    A person is taking a much greater risk eating undercooked (non-sushi) salmon, fresh water fish, or Pacific rockfish (aka Pacific red snapper) than sushi because there are some parasites that these critters can get from mammals in their coastal and riverine environments. For example rockfish can get some worm from eating sea lion feces that can affect humans.

                    Nothing like fresh albacore loin virtually at dockside. Yum.

                    1. re: Ed Dibble

                      Article is about ingesting raw fish, specifically fresh water. Also illustrates possibility of acquiring intestinal parasites.

                2. Yeah, the only time I've gotten sick from fish or seafood, it was a cooked piece of fish. I don't even think there was anything wrong with the fish or perhaps even what the kitchen did with it, so much as a reaction to something the fish had been exposed to or eaten. I know this sounds strange, but the reaction wasn't food poisoning but rather a problem with my airway. I didn't test allergic to fish or shellfish at the allergist afterwards, either. I've since educated myself more about different fish and am choosier about my options at seafood restaurants.

                  I've never had a problem with sushi or sashimi, probably because the restaurants take such good care with the product.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: amyzan

                    I've also never had a problem with sushi or sashimi. Like you, I've gotten sick from cooked seafood (whether prepared at home or at a restaurant). I think that most sushi restaurants handle their fish a lot more carefully than restaurants and stores that sell fish that's intended to be cooked. And the freezing of sushi fish probably helps in that regard.

                    Amyzan, if you did have a problem with your airway with the fish you have had a histamine reaction. Problem with allergy tests is that they are not 100% accurate -- lots of false negatives. So it''s a good thing that you're being careful.

                  2. And then there is fugu.

                    1. I stay away from sushi in a sushi buffet, and cheap sushi.

                      1. I worry less about sushi and sashimi than I do about deli counters and deli meats.

                        1. Like most of the posters here, i have eaten sashimi and sushi for years with no problems. Although I fear that with the explosion of sushi sold in grocery stores and other outlets that may change. I ve eaten fresh Sushi off of the back of fishing boats off of California and Mexico and in many restuarants and never had a problem.

                          1. I am 25 and living in New York City with a modest income, so I really cant afford to splurge on expensive sushi. About once a week I eat at a place that has a special (5 different types of Nigiri and a tuna roll with a salad) for $7.00. Haven't gotten sick yet (knock on wood!)

                            1. I got very sick from a spicy tuna roll. Someone on this board mentioned that the rolls are more likely to be made from older or leftover bits of fish. It makes sense to me.

                              10 Replies
                              1. re: Glencora

                                that is true. spicy tuna/spicy salmon roll is kind of considered the doofus order in any sushi place, unfortunately, right behind the cali roll. the spicy sauce is camo for fish on its second (maybe even 3rd) day-- i've had my share of spicy tuna rolls that obviously weren't at the height of freshness (guess this makes me & my friends doofuses). at a high-volume, super-fresh sushi place it *still* shouldn't matter, the fish should still be plenty fresh, but at a slow place. . . otoh the freshness of the spicy tuna roll can be a great barometer of the general freshness of the fish in any sushi joint, because it all only goes up from there. . .

                                1. re: soupkitten

                                  Hmm, never realize about the spicy tuna/salmon roll... Makes sense. I'm afraid I will have to remain a doofus, really like them (the Korean in me).

                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                    Doofus here, too :-) ...although I actually prefer to make my own spicy tuna (or even better, salmon) rolls at home (my own tic), and concentrate on the nigiri when out, so I can see and smell the unadorned fish.

                                    Good point on the spicy rolls being a barometer - hadn't thought of it that way before. Can't say I've ever had a "bad" spicy roll, but now I'm thinking...
                                    Cay

                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                      I'd think anything with salmon is the "doofus" roll since only a doofus eats fresh water fish raw.

                                      I'll always order the spicy tuna roll, no apologies and no shame.

                                      1. re: John Manzo

                                        Don't think that's true anymore. I still don't like the taste of salmon sashimi, but it's served with pride as part of several well known sushi chef's omakase meals here in NYC. It's not traditional, but it can be for doofuses and non-doofuses, alike.

                                        1. re: cimui

                                          you know, sometimes i just *shouldn't* type the vernacular terms i use in everyday conversation on chowhound! lol :)

                                          i hope everyone is taking the "doofus" term in the lighthearted way it was intended; as i've stated the spicy tuna roll frequently appears at my table, as dh enjoys it & is limited in his sushi choices due to a shellfish/seafood allergy. making us doofuses. frequently. unapologetically. happily, even. :) i didn't intend for the word doofus to get so out of hand on this thread, though!

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            i'm an unabashed doofus in countless ways, as well--so definitely no worries about the term on my end. :)
                                            to be fair, white salmon isn't too bad!

                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                              soupkitten, I think of the spicy tuna roll v. fresh rare tuna steak in the same way that I think of a good (good!) meatloaf v. a prime ribeye. If that makes me a doofus, I LOVE the term doofus. I think we all know what you and I mean.

                                              (Additionally, I think the word "Doofus" has become one of my new favorites in describing not-so-toney food-lovers. But: LOVABLE, KNOWING Doofuses.

                                              Spicy tuna roll is delicious, no matter how you roll it (sorry; pun, bad). I prefer it at home, as I've had less-than-tasty at out-in-the-world venues. Still: Yum, even at 80-percent-quality-output. (FRESH is the key!)
                                              Cay

                                        2. re: soupkitten

                                          Oh, so true. I knew someone who was a waiter at a moderate Japanese restaurant (not Masa, not Daikichi -- somewhere in the middle). His restaurant would get fish shipments about three times a week. The older tuna/salmon got turned into the spicy rolls.

                                        3. re: Glencora

                                          Also worth noting that the spicy tuna roll (almost) certainly had sauce on it made of mayonnaise and probably sriracha...but that sauce may have also been around quite a while and the spicy tuna may have been continually mixed into the same container for days on end.

                                          Might be bad fish, but also could be bad prep, bad sauce, bad cleaning....and so on. Anyhow, the only "spicy" anything I eat is at places where I can watch them cut up the fish in front of me and mix the mayonnaise, hot sauce and fish together. It really can be tasty.

                                        4. I've read a few articles that mention that wasabi is an antibacterial that helps with the digestion of any critters that might be in the fish. Any truth to that?

                                          I'm on the same boat as everyone else - if it looks clean, it probably is safe. Sit at the sushi bar, you'll get to see exactly what's going on with your food.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: drgnflychic

                                            I think you'll be fine in any place with an A health rating. I have eaten sushi about twice a week for years and have never once gotten sick. So eat up and don't worry so much!

                                            1. re: drgnflychic

                                              i read the same about the wasabi...but it's only the real thing..and not some of the versions we get in north america, which is not always the real thing.

                                              from what i've also heard..sushi is always made to order and shouldn't have sat around for any timeframe...which i guess rules out some of the supermarket stuff...which i have however eaten when i have a craving and there's no restaurant nearby.

                                              1. re: im_nomad

                                                Bacteria can infect raw fish as easily as they can infect raw meat, or dairy products, or whatever. And fish have their own set of parasites, but the thing going for you in regard to parasites in fish is that it is very difficult for a parasite that uses a cold-blooded animal (the fish) as a host to transfer to a warm-blooded host (you).

                                            2. I've never gotten sick from it, and I don't exercise any form of caution other than refusing to eat fish that smells or tastes off to me (i.e. at the high-end Neo Sushi and mid-range Kirarara in NYC).

                                              I seldom get it from grocery stores because grocery store sushi doesn't taste good to me (hard, cold rice + soggy nori = ugh). I have purchased (freshly rolled) maki at deli counters run by Thais and Koreans, enjoyed the food, and not gotten sick.

                                              1. I've only gotten ill from restaurant food twice, once was from sushi the other from chinese, but I still eat sushi all the time. There was an article in the NY Times last week about mercury in sushi fish (particularly tuna) and this was a problem even in the best NYC restaurants. As I understand it the fish to beware of for parasites are salmon and swordfish and things like cod or haddock, fish from supermarkets is to be avoided because even if it's been in a deep freeze display in the fish counters encourages spread of parasites. I only buy fish for sushi from Japanese markets. I once had raw, not pickeled, mackerel in an odd sushi place... that had me worried but to no ill effect.

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: steinpilz

                                                  'Parasites' do not spread from fish to fish in a fish counter or in a deep
                                                  freeze. 'Bacteria' can spread from fish to fish in a fish counter.

                                                  1. re: ThaiNut

                                                    I think it's inconsistent to say that bacteria can spread in a fish market but parasites can't. I'd agree that the deep freeze kills parasites, I couldn't be certain about bacteria, but not everything in a supermarket seafood display has gone through a deep freeze (I'll ignore truely bad treatment involving flies on the dock - behind the store or on the ocean).

                                                      1. re: ccbweb

                                                        If bacteria can spread between fish in a fish market (I'd originally meant in the display, where fish are lying on top of each other, but the counter and prep areas are also problems) why not parasites? There's a big difference in size, but this might give the advantage to parasites. I've read stories about live parasites in salmon, swordfish, and cod, from markets -- not pretty stories.

                                                  2. I just don't know how you can tell. I was trying to acclimate myself to sushi a couple of years ago, so I had some for lunch at a nice, local sushi place. The sushi had roe on it. Within a day, I had many symptoms of ciguatera and was ill for several days. The scariest was the extreme numbness in my hands and feet, indicating some neurologic problem. Luckily, I hadn't finished the entire plate of sushi because I just didn't like the taste all that much; who knows how sick I would have been if I'd chowed down on the whole thing.
                                                    I will never try sushi with fish again, not that I liked the taste anyway.

                                                    6 Replies
                                                    1. re: swissgirl

                                                      I have a question about this statement:

                                                      "Within a day, I had many symptoms of ciguatera and was ill for several days."

                                                      Did you see a doctor? If not, are you an MD? If not, who decided you had ciguatera?

                                                      I think it is pretty unfair to tar all raw fish with the same brush, especially (and I don't know this for sure; I could very well be making an unfair assumption) when you don't mention having a ciguatera diagnosis, just "many symptoms."

                                                      1. re: jnstarla

                                                        There's also the fact that the little bugger that causes ciguatera is exceptionally hard to kill and is fairly heat resistant....so whether the fish that has it is served raw or cooked is pretty much irrelevant.

                                                        1. re: jnstarla

                                                          I did see a doctor who confirmed I had food poisoning. It was quite frightening as I was home alone with an infant and was concerned I couldn't care for her, as sick as I was. Yes, it was ciguatera according to the diagnosis. Why so incredulous? Seafood poisoning does happen. Many people probably ride it out and don't see a doctor; I did go in as I was quite ill with more than the stereotypical food poisoning vomiting/nausea symtoms. Luckily, the illness passed in 3 days. I also let the restaurant know of the incident.

                                                          Yes, you can get this from cooked or raw fish. As the OP, asked, how safe is sushi? The customer, in most cases, probably can't tell from the restaurant, the food on the table, cooked or not. You take your chances, though 99% of the time, the meal will not result in food poisoning.

                                                          1. re: swissgirl

                                                            I was just asking - I know a lot of people who see Dr. Google and then self-diagnose.

                                                            Mostly I feel bad for you since you probably don't want to eat sushi any more!

                                                            1. re: jnstarla

                                                              It's okay - I honestly don't like sushi with fish anyway and I'm happy to stop trying to "make" or "train" myself to like it. (I really enjoyed the recent thread here on trying to train yourself to like certain foods). Vegetarian or vegetable sushi is tasty though.

                                                            2. re: swissgirl

                                                              I got extremely ill from eating cooked crab cakes at a restaurant..had to go to the ER. I've never gotten sick from sashimi.

                                                        2. This is a topic that comes up with some frequency. Here are two websites you may go to; there are many more:

                                                          http://www.oregonschoice.com/current_...

                                                          http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/mehgadvi...

                                                          Guidelines are *much* more restrictive for women who are pregnant or may become so. As for sushi and sashimi, keep in mind that the neta on sushi is somewhere in the 1/2 ounce ball park so it would take a lot of it to surpass FDA quidelines. People eat a lot more when cooked; four ounces or a lot more. OTOH, there are other fish with mercury, and it is the overall amount that is important. It would still take a lot of sushi...

                                                          Salmon is considered by the FDA to be low in mercury.

                                                          Swordfish, tilefish, shark, and king mackeral are the four fish most restricted by the FDA, primarily for pregnant women and sexually active women that may become pregnant. (It can take a year to get the mercury out.

                                                          )

                                                          IOW, there certainly is an element of risk but you're *far* more likely to die in a fiery car crash on the way to a restaurant or grocery store. You can get hepatitus A., food poisoning, etc., etc. Me? I can't afford enough sushi/sashimmi to have it be dangerous.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Richard 16

                                                            If you'd like to read a scathing rebuke of what they call a "fish scam" about the dangers of mercury in fish, try:

                                                            http://www.fishscam.com/?gclid=CKPe-p...

                                                          2. i think a good way to decide on if a place is safe, is using the same cautions you would use if you were cooking/planning on eating fish in your own kitchen. and if the place doesn't look impeccably clean, thats could be a really decent hint too. i mean, if your sushi chef is looking a mess and disheveled, ... i'd steer clear. theres a chance he COULD be like that all the time, but it could also be an off-day for him, ... which might result in something going wrong.