Sushi lover, have you ever wondered if your favorite spicy tuna roll could actually make you sick? It’s a fair question, especially if you’re new to raw fish. Sushi is incredibly delicious, but there are some risks to eating raw seafood.
The main concerns with sushi are food poisoning, parasites, mercury exposure, and other bugs. Mishandled raw fish can contain bacteria, viruses, or toxins that cause nasty nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Gross but true! Parasites like tapeworm can also hitch a ride in raw fish and make you ill.
Here’s the good news – you can enjoy sushi safely by choosing the right rolls. Stick to low-mercury fish like salmon and shrimp. Opt for rolls with cooked seafood or go vegetarian. And pick a trusted spot with top health ratings. Properly handled sushi from a reputable spot is very unlikely to make you sick.
In this article, I’ll walk you through smart sushi choices for hassle-free eating. I’ll also explain how to spot risky sushi and reduce your odds of getting sick. Read on to become a sushi pro!
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Risks and Safety Concerns with Sushi
Sushi is often made with raw fish, shellfish and even raw vegetables. So contamination and improper handling can allow risky bacteria, viruses, parasites or toxins to lurk in your sushi. Here are the main safety concerns:
Consuming raw seafood contaminated with bacteria, viruses or toxins causes food poisoning. Symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps can begin 6-24 hours after eating bad sushi.
Raw fish is a major culprit. Bacteria like salmonella, vibrio, listeria and E. coli can contaminate raw seafood. Food prep areas contaminated with these bugs can also spread illness.
Shellfish may harbor naturally occurring marine bacteria like Vibrio vulnificus. And toxins like ciguatera or scombroid can occur in some large reef fish.
Raw or undercooked fish can contain tiny parasites like nematodes, tapeworms, roundworms and flukes. Most common is the Anisakis simplex nematode often found in salmon.
When people eat live Anisakis larvae, the parasites burrow into the stomach lining causing symptoms like nausea, abdominal pain and digestive issues. They must be killed by cooking or flash freezing fish first.
Larger fish higher on the food chain contain more mercury. Regularly eating sushi fish like tuna can cause mercury toxicity over time.
Symptoms are usually neurological – numbness, memory issues, muscle weakness and lack of coordination. Mercury also impairs brain development in unborn babies.
Other Foodborne Illness
Other bugs can also contaminate sushi ingredients and make you sick. Bacillus cereus bacteria is associated with fried or sticky rice dishes. Salmonella can lurk in raw egg used in sauces. Sprouts and other raw veggies in sushi rolls may harbor E. coli or listeria.
Proper cooking and handling is key to avoiding foodborne pathogens in sushi ingredients.
How to Choose Safe Sushi
Luckily, it’s easy to minimize the risks when eating sushi! Here are some tips:
- Stick to high-end reputable sushi restaurants and avoid questionable spots. Check inspection scores.
- Only order sushi made with raw fish that has been flash frozen first to kill parasites.
- Avoid high mercury fish like tuna or mackerel. Opt for low mercury choices like salmon, tilapia, anchovies, sardines, trout or shellfish.
- Cooked options like eel, shrimp and crab are safer than raw fish. Try veggie rolls too.
- Ensure raw fish looks fresh – avoid slimy flesh or dull colors.
- Ask if raw vegetables, sprouts or eggs used are from reputable screened sources.
- For takeout, eat sushi within 2 hours of purchase and keep refrigerated. Reheating doesn’t kill bacteria.
Follow basic food safety and your chances of getting sick from sushi are very low.
Safer Sushi Options
You can still enjoy delicious sushi without the risks by choosing wisely. Here are some of the safest sushi rolls and items:
Opt for rolls made with cooked ingredients like shrimp tempura rolls or california rolls with imitation crab. The seafood is cooked first, minimizing risks.
Eel (unagi) and smoked salmon rolls are other good choices. Just check that raw salmon is flash frozen first.
Veggie sushi rolls avoid raw seafood entirely. Cucumber, avocado and pickled daikon radish rolls are tasty options. Some restaurants even do fun fruits like mango or strawberry.
Nigiri sushi with cooked or cured toppings are safer than raw options. Choose eel, octopus, cooked shrimp or smoked salmon.
Rice & Noodle Dishes
Skip the fish and try sushi rice dishes like chirashi sushi or inari (sweet tofu pouches). Seaweed salad and miso soup make nice complements.
Ramen with vegetables or chicken is another good Japanese option with no raw fish.
Do your homework to find sushi restaurants with strict safety standards for handling raw seafood. Check inspection scores and reviews. High-volume spots with good ratings are less risky.
Riskier Sushi to Avoid
On the flip side, these options have higher risks for foodborne illness:
- Raw tuna or yellowtail sushi from questionable sources
- Spicy tuna rolls made with fresh raw tuna
- Anything labeled sashimi or simply as raw fish
- Rolls with multiple raw fish types like tuna, salmon, yellowtail
- Bargain sushi happy hours or cheap takeout deals
- Raw oysters and clams (higher risk of Vibrio bacteria)
- Raw quail egg sushi topping (may contain salmonella)
When in doubt, ask if raw seafood has been frozen and where ingredients are sourced from. Check online reviews too.
Preventing Sushi Sickness
You can take a few extra precautions to help avoid getting sick from sushi:
- Opt for vegetarian sushi or try cooked rolls on a first visit to a new spot. See how you feel afterward.
- Ask if the sushi rice is held properly at safe temperatures and not left out.
- Avoid sushi made with raw fish roe, which can harbor bacteria. Masago (smelt roe) is sometimes sold frozen but other roe may be fresh.
- Stick to bottled soy sauce on the table – it has less bacterial contamination risk than reused open containers.
- Check reviews and be wary of any sushi place with reports of sickness.
- When in doubt, don’t eat it! Never consume anything that looks, smells or tastes off.
Exercising caution prevents the vast majority of sushi sickness.
The Takeaway on Sushi Safety
Can sushi really make you sick? There are some risks due to raw seafood contamination and parasites. But choosing sushi carefully makes getting sick very unlikely – especially from reputable restaurants.
Stick to low-mercury fish, cooked options, and veggie rolls. And if in doubt, don’t eat it! With sound judgment, you can continue to enjoy your spicy tuna and cali rolls without getting sick.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are symptoms of food poisoning from sushi?
Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever. Symptoms typically start 6-24 hours after eating contaminated sushi. Seek medical treatment for severe symptoms or diarrhea lasting over 3 days.
How long does food poisoning last after eating bad sushi?
Most sushi-related food poisoning improves on its own in 1-3 days. Drink plenty of fluids and rest. See a doctor immediately if symptoms are severe, bloody, or persist longer than 3 days.
Is it safe to eat sushi while pregnant?
Pregnant women need to be extra cautious. Avoid any raw fish due to risks of parasites, mercury exposure, and foodborne illness which can harm the fetus. Stick to vegetarian rolls and sushi containing only cooked ingredients.
Can leftover or takeout sushi be reheated and eaten safely?
No, reheating does not destroy bacteria from spoiled sushi. Eat takeout sushi within 2 hours and don’t reheat leftovers. Follow all food safety guidelines for sushi storage and handling.
What is the best way to store sushi safely?
Keep fresh sushi refrigerated at 40°F or below and consume within 2 days. Frozen sushi can be safely stored for 1-2 months. When dining out, make sure sushi fish is fully surrounded by ice.