Nine in 10 sushi businesses did not have adequate controls to safeguard human health during a Food Safety Authority of Ireland audit.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) conducted the audits in October 2018 in 11 businesses.

The audit of sushi manufacturers, restaurants and takeaway outlets revealed 76 breaches of food safety regulations for general hygiene, parasite control, traceability and microbiological criteria.

Of 11 premises audited, only one had no breaches of food safety and hygiene legislation. The other 10 firms had between four and 10 regulation failures. Three quarters of firms did not meet legal requirements for freezing fish for parasite control.

It was done because of a reported 80 percent increase in the number of restaurants offering sushi since 2018. Products covered were sushi, sashimi, carpaccio and surimi. The most common fish used in sushi were salmon and tuna.

Three manufacturers were audited who supply and produce sushi for the corporate sector. Eight restaurants visited ranged from small establishments where sushi was served to consumers on the premises, to small outlets which sold most of their products on food delivery platforms.

Parasite control

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Dr. Pamela Byrne, chief executive of FSAI, said raw fish from fresh water and salt water can be a potential source of human infection due to the presence of parasites.

Controls to ensure raw fish used in sushi is parasite free are critical as there is no cooking process to kill potentially harmful parasites. Sushi rice also needs specific food safety controls to avoid presence of foodborne bacteria such as Bacillus cereus.

“There has been rapid growth in demand for sushi, which can be perceived as a healthy food option by consumers. The audit focused on the food safety controls in place regarding the freezing of fish for parasite control and time/temperature controls, and pH controls for acidified sushi rice. It showed that over three quarters of the food businesses did not have adequate food safety controls in place for this,” she said.

Byrne said the audit was to see if food safety controls were being followed and findings were “very concerning”.

“We also found poor traceability records, which are critical in the event of a food recall, if required. The poor standards overall are worrying and suggests a lack of awareness by the sector as a whole of the serious food safety risks that sushi can pose if there are inadequate food safety controls in place.”

Byrne said premises in the audit have all rectified the issues and the agency has given advice to help the sector improve standards.

“We found frozen fish being defrosted at room temperature. Defrosting should only be undertaken in refrigerators to avoid bacteria multiplying at room temperatures. We found freezers not at the required minus 20 degrees C (minus 4 degrees F) for fish parasite control, as well as fish being delivered without temperature checks,” she said.

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