Sushi-Grade Fish: What Does it Mean?

If you don’t frequently work with or eat raw fish at home, you may feel a little out of your element the first time you do so — especially when it comes to food safety. So, you look for sushi-grade fish; after all, if a fish is sushi-grade, then it must be safe to eat... right? Wild Alaskan Salmon Nigiri

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But, really, what is sushi-grade fish? What makes fish “sushi grade” and what does “sushi grade" mean? Knowing the basics about sushi-grade fish can help you better understand what exactly you’re buying, how to use it and, as a result, how to prepare the best raw fish dishes for your friends and family.

What is sushi-grade fish?

First up: What is sushi-grade fish in the first place? 

Sushi-grade fish is fish that’s generally the highest-quality fish you can buy, a fish that you can eat raw without worries of food-borne illnesses.

Sushi-grade fish must be frozen before being consumed, to further prevent any of those food-borne illnesses, and this is usually done via flash freezing, sometimes immediately after sushi-grade salmon, for example, is caught. 

But how safe is it to consume raw fish, sushi-grade or not?

It all really comes down to your personal risk aversion, but eating raw fish that’s been handled correctly and that’s truly sushi grade is generally considered totally safe. When considering raw salmon specifically, it’s likewise safe to eat raw salmon if it’s flash frozen and properly processed. 

When shopping for fish to eat raw, looking for the sushi-grade label can help you buy only that fish that’s been handled appropriately and that’s safest for you and your family. However, that sushi-grade stamp of approval isn’t the only thing you need to look for. 

Who determines if a fish is sushi grade?

This is where things get tricky. Technically, there’s no official organization determining what cuts of fish are sushi-grade and which are not. The only true requirement is that the fish is frozen — and this requirement isn’t even related to the “sushi-grade” label. It’s simply an FDA guideline that applies to all wild fish sold for raw consumption. 

Notice a label that says “sashimi grade” instead of sushi grade? That’s another area where the waters are muddied. Sashimi-grade fish is considered the same as sushi-grade fish; the two terms are used interchangeably. 

Where to buy sushi-grade fish

Because the regulations for what can be labeled as a sushi-grade fish (or sashimi-grade fish) aren’t very rigid, it’s not uncommon for some unscrupulous fish markets to simply slap the sushi-grade label on whatever they like. This is why it’s so important to purchase any fish that you intend to eat raw (or otherwise) from a trustworthy, reliable seller with a commendable reputation. You want to work with a sustainable fisher, who’s sourcing their fish wild, not from a farm. 

And if you’re wondering about a fish’s safety or whether or not it truly is sushi grade, ask your provider. A reputable provider will be more than happy to answer any questions you have about a fish’s freshness and origins, as well as the provider’s own handling and processing practices. 

On top of this, working with a reputable provider can further alleviate worries about pollutants in the ocean affecting your raw fish’s quality or safety. A reputable provider is going to be sourcing the freshest, wildest fish from the cleanest sources — which means that those pollutants that you might find in a raw farmed fish, for example, aren’t as much of a risk. 

Beyond only purchasing your sushi-grade fish from a reputable provider, you can further check your fish for safe eating by giving it a feel and a sniff, if you’re able. Your salmon should smell more or less like sea water and have a bright color, with a slightly firm feel (soft fish is a red flag). If, though, you can’t smell, feel or see the specific fish you’re buying before you buy it, say if you’re buying sushi-grade fish online, you’ll want to be sure you can fully rely on your provider's reputation for sourcing and shipping only the highest-quality, freshest and safest fish. 

How to store sushi-grade fish for sashimi

While eating your sushi-grade fish as quickly as possible is the ideal scenario, if you do store your sushi-grade fish for later use in sashimi, sushi, ceviche or any other raw fish dish, you want to keep things cold. 

Keep your sushi-grade fish in the refrigerator for no more than two days (wrapped in plastic wrap and packed in ice) and don’t let it sit at room temperature for more than two hours. It is possible to freeze your sushi-grade fish and then thaw it in the fridge for later use, but the quality is very likely to deteriorate the longer it sits in the freezer. 

Related: Types of Sushi – Nigiri, Sashimi, Maki, and More

Confidently enjoy your next raw fish dinner!

The concept of sushi-grade fish and preparing raw fish shouldn’t be intimidating. With the right precautions, the right fish and the right fish seller, you can confidently enjoy your next raw fish dinner without any health or safety worries. At Alaskan Salmon Co., we sell only sushi-grade Copper River salmon that you can trust for freshness.

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