( Guest post by Food Scientist Rawan Hammoud)
|One of the sushi samples taken for testing|
Sushi Popularity in Lebanon:
Sushi as a food product has grown and evolved to create an entire industry of Sushi bars which has found its way to the Lebanese market. Sushi was first introduced in Lebanon upon the opening of “Le Sushi Bar” in 1997. A decade ago there were only two Sushi bars in Lebanon, but now this number has had a fifteen fold increase amounting to about 35 Sushi restaurants in Beirut. The manager of “Le Sushi Bar” considered the consumption of raw fish not unusual in Lebanon. He maintained that in some areas the consumption of raw meat is normal like in the Lebanese staple “Kebbeh Nayye”.
There is a growing craze in Lebanon for Sushi as Lebanese consumers are becoming more and more curious to try foreign cuisine and opt for healthier products. Sushi used to be regarded as a “Niche” product for a select type of consumers who could afford the high prices (up to 600$ in some expensive Sushi bars). However, this product has become not only more affordable (as low as 20$ a head) but more accepted by the Lebanese consumers. (Chochrane, 2010) Unfortunately, this fast growing trend of Sushi consumption in Lebanon has not been associated with stricter food safety regulations leading to a potential health risk.
Risk of Consuming Sushi
The preparation of Sushi has various features and characteristics that introduce microbiological hazards.
1. Most ingredients used for Sushi are consumed raw and cold.
2. Cooked ingredients are not reheated prior to serving.
3. The storage temperature, if not properly maintained, could contribute to growth and persistence of micro-organisms.
4. The preparation involves many handling steps by bare hands. Food handling practices thus play a crucial role in determining the hygienic status of the final products.” (Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, 2000)
As such, ready to eat raw sushi is considered a potentially hazardous food.
Study on Safety of Sushi in A.U.B
A study was conducted in the American university of Beirut on the microbiological safety of Sushi. 5 restaurants were visited and tested and the results were horrifying:
- Very high counts of aerobic bacteria indicated temperature abuse, unsatisfactory hygienic practices during processing of food, and contaminated raw material.
- Another microorganism called S. aureus was also found in high levels. This microorganism can release a toxic which is not resistant to heat and can cause food borne illness including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea . Its own presence in such high amounts indicated of poor personal hygiene by food handlers involved in Sushi preparation and poor time and temperature control. As this microorganism naturally exists on human hair and skin, it can easily get into your food, especially with a product that requires as much handling and no heating like sushi.
- Finally another microorganism E-coli was found in very high levels. This microorganism comes from feces and can cause serious diarrhea and other symptoms of food borne illness.
- It showed that unsatisfactory hygienic practices are taking place during processing of food from supply to delivery.
- There is clear evidence of general lack of cleanliness in handling and with the utensils used for preparation. The overall hygienic quality of the samples was extremely poor.
- 80% of the samples were deemed to be unacceptable with only two samples acceptable when it came to both staph and E-coli tests.
- Fancy 5 star
restaurants scored as low as the sushi huts when it came to food safety and
appearances were very deceiving and in no way an indication of hygiene.
The study concluded that sushi is a high risk product that poses a serious hazard to the consumer. The consumption of Sushi in Beirut should be avoided by the general population and especially by pregnant women, the elderly, children, and immuno-compromised persons.
The consumer is an important partner in contributing to food safety and should demand a better product. The consumer should not be fooled by the classy appearance of the Sushi bars and should look beyond that and keep an eye out for food safety violations.
Steps you can take when eating Sushi out
1. Make sure all sushi plates on conveyer are covered to be protected, steer clear from plates that are uncovered
|Example of a conveyor belt|
3. Individually packaged wasabi and pickled ginger should be provided to prevent cross contamination
4. Keep your eye on the chefs and food handlers, workers should wash hands between handling of raw ingredients and ready-to-eat foods (sushi), and not only wipe their hands with a dirty towel to remove the grease