What is Sushi-Grade Fish?

If you’re a seafood enthusiast, you’ve probably been thinking about trying raw fish. It’s a delightful culinary experience indeed—which explains the popularity of sushi and sashimi dishes. However, you might also feel worried about safety and potential health risks of eating raw fish, such as salmonella, among other foodborne illnesses [*].

Sushi-grade fish is considered good both in terms of its quality, safety, and taste. And like other high-quality fish, it’s rich in nutrients. Here’s what you need to know about the term “sushi-grade” and how it might differ from “sashimi-grade,” including buying and storage tips.

What Does “Sushi-Grade” Mean?

"Sushi-grade" is a term used to describe fish that is deemed safe to eat raw in sushi and sashimi. It signifies that the fish has been handled and processed under strict guidelines to ensure freshness and minimize the risk of parasites or contamination.

Typically, sushi-grade fish is of high quality, with specific criteria regarding freshness, texture, and appearance that make it good for raw consumption.

Sushi-Grade vs. Sashimi-Grade

"Sushi-grade" and "sashimi-grade" are often used interchangeably. They’re similar in that these grades indicate safety for raw consumption—however, sashimi-grade fish is often held to slightly higher quality standards in terms of freshness and handling since sashimi is served raw without rice or other accompaniments.

Related: 9 Different Types of Sushi – Sashimi, Nigiri, and More

What are the Qualities of a Sushi Grade Fish?

Sushi grade fish is characterized by several key qualities that make it suitable for raw consumption in sushi and sashimi.

First and foremost, the fish must be extremely fresh, meaning that it is caught and processed on the same day. Freshness is important for preventing the growth of harmful bacteria. You will notice this freshness in its firm texture and smooth consistency, which allows it to be sliced neatly into thin, delicate pieces!

Appearance is another factor. Sushi-grade fish should have a vibrant color and a glossy appearance. When you press the flesh, it should spring back easily and should feel firm—not mushy.

Besides these visual and textural attributes, sushi grade fish must also meet stringent safety standards. That said, it is handled and stored under strict sanitary conditions, including flash freezing to kill parasites.

What are the Factors Affecting Quality of Sushi-Grade Fish?

You will want to pay attention to the factors like fishing methods, handling post-catch, species selection, and preparation techniques. We’ll explain more below:

  • Fishing methods. Sustainable and careful fishing practices, such as line catching, help minimize stress and damage to the fish, which may preserve its texture.
  • Handling post-catch. The fish should be quickly bled, gutted, and chilled to prevent bacterial growth. Handling the fish must be done gently to avoid bruising.
  • Species selection. Not all fish species are suitable for sushi. Species with lower parasite risk and those that maintain their quality well when eaten raw are preferred, such as tuna, salmon, and yellowtail.
  • Preparation techniques. The way the fish is prepared by sushi chefs, including slicing techniques and handling, can also affect the final product's quality. Skilled chefs know how to enhance the fish's natural flavors and textures.

Aside from these factors, some consumers who prefer sushi-grade salmon are concerned about sustainability. 

Related: Sustainable Salmon Guide

What are the Guidelines or Certifications of Sushi-Grade Fish?

It’s important to note that there are no official guidelines or certifications that determine if a fish is "sushi-grade.” However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does have regulations in place for the proper handling of fish to be eaten raw meet specific criteria regarding freshness, texture, and safety for raw consumption.

For instance, the FDA recommends “buying right” by only purchasing fish that is kept refrigerated or displayed on a thick bed of fresh ice. It mentions that color is not a reliable indicator of freshness (due to factors like environment and color fixatives).

Freezing requirements to kill parasites include freezing at an ambient temperature of -4°F (-20°C) or lower for a continuous period of 7 days, or freezing at an extremely low temperature of -31°F (-35°C) or below, and then storing it at the same low temperature of -31°F (-35°C) or below for an additional 15 hours [*].

To guide your selection, check the fish for its odor, eyes, and temperature indicators on their packaging [*].

Is “Sushi-Grade” Fish Safe to Eat Raw?

Sushi-grade fish is generally considered safe to eat raw. However, keep in mind that it is not a regulated term, although factors such as freshness, handling practices, and proper freezing will help determine its quality and safety for sushi and sashimi dishes.

Related: Can You Eat Raw Salmon?

Where Can I Buy Sushi-Grade Fish?

You can buy sushi-grade fish from reputable sources such as specialty fish markets, Japanese grocery stores, or from seafood suppliers, as well as high-end supermarkets.

Remember to ask about their sourcing and handling practices to ensure it meets the necessary standards for raw consumption. You may also want to look for transparent labeling to know that you’re getting the best quality product.

For an exceptional option, consider Alaskan Salmon Company. Known for our insanely fresh, 100% wild, and restaurant-quality salmon, we provide top-notch seafood that meets the highest standards for sushi-grade fish.

How to Store Sushi-Grade Fish at Home

Storing sushi-grade fish at home requires careful attention to maintain its freshness and safety for raw consumption.

First, store the fish in the coldest part of your refrigerator, ideally at a temperature around 32°F (0°C). Keep it tightly wrapped in plastic wrap or butcher paper to prevent exposure to air, which can accelerate spoilage.

For longer storage, consider placing the fish in an airtight container or vacuum-sealed bag before refrigerating. If you're not planning to use it immediately, freezing is an option, but properly wrap the fish and label it. Thaw it in the refrigerator before consuming raw.

The Bottom Line

Now that you have a solid understanding of sushi-grade fish, you're ready to confidently enjoy raw seafood. The next time you order from a restaurant or prepare sushi at home, you can make informed choices and savor the exquisite flavors of top-quality fish!

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