UPDATE: I spoke this morning with Sam Hsu at Formosa, and it seems that I was overly general in my article about Formosa when I wrote that “Hsu explained that fresh, never frozen fish and sterling knife skills distinguish excellent sushi from the rest…”
Hsu has explained that he was referring to the varieties of tuna they use, which are NOT required to be frozen before service (see regulations below). He said they buy whole tuna fish, never frozen, and cut them up for sushi. It does not get any fresher than that. The salmon they buy fresh and freeze for seven days according to health department regulations. Any other fish they purchase has previously been frozen by the supplier, but tuna and salmon are the most popular sushi varieties there.
Formosa was inspected by the health department before opening and no violations were noted. Hsu was quizzed by the inspector to ensure that he knows all of these regulations. You can go to Formosa and enjoy their sushi with no concerns about their compliance with this rule.
Also, readers have reminded me of two other sushi restaurants in the area, Tokyo Express in Salem and Cafe Asia in Bonsack. Neither have had violations relating to freezing fish that I can find. Kabuki also came to mind since they recently started doing sushi – no such violations there either. If you think of any others, feel free to search them on the Health Department inspections page here. END UPDATE
Blog reader Laura raised a question after I wrote a recent article about a new restaurant in downtown Roanoke called Formosa. Laura questioned Formosa owner Sam Hsu’s comment about always using fresh fish, saying she’d heard that sushi fish MUST be frozen at some point in order to kill any parasites which may be present.
I’d never heard that before and it fascinated me, so I contacted Bobby Parker, Public Information Officer for the Western Region of the Virginia Department of Health. Mr. Parker responded to my query via e-mail with this information:
START: “Fish used in sushi does not have to be cooked if specific requirements are met.
One of the primary concerns with the consumption of raw fish is the destruction of any parasite which may be present. The following is a simplification of some of the technical requirements in the Food Regulations focused on parasites.
Frozen and stored at a temperature of -4°F (-20°C) or below for a minimum of 168 hours (seven days) in a freezer.
Frozen at -31°F (-35°C) or below until solid and stored at -31°F (-35°C) or below for a minimum of 15 hours; or Frozen at -31°F (-35°C) or below until solid and stored at -4°F (-20°C) or below for a minimum of 24 hours.
Certain Species of Tuna (Yellowfin tuna), (Bluefin tuna, Southern), (Bigeye tuna), and (Bluefin, Northern); are exempt from the freezing requirement Also certain Aquacultured fish, such as salmon may be exempted from the freezing requirement.
The fish must [be] maintained below 41°F prior to serving but the fish may be held at room temperature if it is disposed of after 4 to 6 hours. Variances to the holding temperature requirements specific to cooked sushi rice may be granted if the rice is properly acidified and therefore minimizing bacterial growth.
All the above comes with detailed specific and general documentation requirements.” END
I find this very fascinating because it does seem to indicate that what Laura heard is true. I replied to Mr. Parker asking him whether the food regulations he mentions are federal or state. I also asked whether that is enforced in Virginia, but I haven’t heard back yet and he responded that they are strictly enforced here.
I decided to poke around the health department’s restaurant inspection database to see whether I could find any mention of this rule in the inspection record for other sushi restaurants. I did in fact find one critical violation from several years ago for Wasabi in downtown Roanoke that states:
Corrected During Inspection Critical Raw Flounder (Fluke) for service or sale in the ready-to-eat form was not frozen to ensure parasite destruction. Raw Flounder (Fluke) used for sushi has not been frozen to ensure parasite destruction.
Corrected during inspection. Raw Flounder (Fluke) has been removed from the sushi display case and moved to the kitchen to be cooked. Ensure parasite destruction of raw, raw marinated, partially cooked or marinated-partially cooked fish for consumption is frozen throughout to a temperature of -4°F (-20°C) for 168 hours (7 days) in a freezer or at -31°F (-35°C) for 15 hours in a blast freezer. If receiving frozen Flounder (Fluke) in the future, obtain letter from fish provider stating that fish has been frozen for parasite destruction.
Also several years ago, this violation was noted at Metro! in downtown Roanoke:
Critical Raw Grouper ceviche offered for service or sale in the ready-to-eat form was not frozen to ensure parasite destruction. Confirmed with fish supplier that Grouper, used for ceviche by the restaurant, has not been frozen to ensure parasite destruction and was not farm raised and pellet fed to ensure that the product is parasite free.
Immediately discontinue service of the grouper ceviche. Remaining Grouper must be fully cooked or properly frozen (in guidelines below) to ensure parasite destruction. Ensure parasite destruction of raw, raw marinated, partially cooked or marinated-partially cooked fish for consumption is frozen throughout to a temperature of -4°F (-20°C) for 168 hours (7 days) in a freezer or at -31°F (-35°C) for 15 hours in a blast freezer.
I checked Ben Gui and found nothing. Checked Formosa and nothing, but they did just open. If you can think of other places that serve sushi, we’ll search ‘em. So there you go. It appears as if the rule is enforced by health department inspectors in our area. I’ll report back with other updates and see if I can talk to Hsu to clarify [SEE UPDATE ABOVE].
Thanks for the sharp eye, Laura.