Sushi is a favorite of many people, from Tokyo to New York City—and for good reason. This delicacy is more than just delicious — it’s beautiful, versatile, and packed with many of the same health benefits shrimp provide.

Like any other food, though, sushi carries its own set of risks, particularly when it comes to food safety. Let’s unpack the answer to the question: When is sushi safe to eat? That way, you can enjoy your favorite roll without any of the worry. 

Is Sushi Safe to Eat?

When is sushi safe to eat? Most of the time. With the exception of some individuals with certain conditions, many of us can enjoy sushi safely thanks to standards of handling, storage, and preparation. 

To understand exactly what—and why—those are, we have to take a look at exactly what sushi is, and how it’s made. While there are several different styles of sushi rolls, the dish is often comprised of vinegared rice, vegetables, and, of course, raw seafood. The most common seafood used in sushi includes raw fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, as well as shellfish like shrimp and squid. 

While raw fish is a staple in many sushi dishes, it’s not the sole component, with variations such as vegetarian sushi (with ingredients like avocado and cucumber) and cooked seafood options widely available.

Is Sushi Safe to Eat If It’s Sushi-Grade

“Sushi-grade fish” is a term often used in the seafood industry and by sushi chefs to refer to fish that is of a high enough quality to be consumed raw in sushi or sashimi dishes. However, it’s important to note that there are no official regulations or standards defining what constitutes “sushi-grade” fish. Instead, it’s a marketing term used to imply that the fish meets certain criteria for freshness, taste, texture, and safety.

Still, the qualities associated with “sushi grade” are ones to look for when ordering or preparing sushi. They include: 


Sushi-grade fish should be exceptionally fresh, with a mild odor reminiscent of the sea. It should have firm flesh and clear, bright eyes in the case of whole fish.

Handling and Processing

The fish should be handled and processed in a sanitary environment to minimize the risk of bacterial contamination. It’s often handled with care to avoid damage to the flesh, which could affect its texture and appearance.

Temperature Control

Proper temperature control is crucial to maintaining the freshness of sushi-grade fish. It should be stored at the correct temperature to prevent bacterial growth and ensure food safety.


Some types of sushi-grade fish may undergo a process of freezing to kill parasites and ensure safety for raw consumption. The freezing process may vary depending on the type of fish and the regulations of the country or region.

Quality and Appearance

Sushi-grade fish should have a clean and attractive appearance, with no signs of discoloration, bruising, or other defects. 

When Is Sushi Safe to Eat? 

While sushi-grade fish is typically of high quality and suitable for raw consumption, it’s not a guarantee of safety. Consumers should exercise caution and purchase sushi from reputable sources regardless of whether the fish is labeled as “sushi-grade.”

The Role of Freshness

One of the primary concerns when it comes to sushi safety is the freshness of its ingredients, particularly raw fish. Fish used in sushi is quickly iced upon being caught and then frozen at temperatures of between -4 and -31 degrees Fahrenheit in a process designed to kill any parasites present. 

Safe Handling and Storage

Proper handling and storage are crucial for ensuring the safety of sushi. Restaurants must adhere to strict food safety protocols, including storing seafood at the correct temperature to prevent bacterial growth. 

When sushi chefs at reputable restaurants receive fish from suppliers, they carefully inspect it for these signs of freshness and store it at temperatures meant to preserve both the flavor and safety of the seafood. However, once the fish reaches the consumer, the responsibility of maintaining that freshness falls on them. 

If you’re taking leftover sushi home, put the rolls in the fridge as soon as possible—and make sure the temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Usually, sushi containing raw fish is good in the fridge for 1 to 2 days. 

Health Risks Associated with Sushi

Though most sushi, when properly prepared and stored is safe, there is always a small risk involved with consuming raw or undercooked seafood. The main health concerns include:

Bacterial Contamination

Raw seafood, if not handled or stored properly, can harbor harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, Vibrio, and Listeria. These bacteria can cause food poisoning and gastrointestinal illnesses.

Parasitic Infections

Certain types of fish, particularly freshwater varieties like salmon and trout, may contain parasites such as tapeworms and roundworms. While these parasites are usually killed during the freezing process, consuming raw or undercooked fish increases the risk of infection.

Mercury Exposure

Some species of fish commonly used in sushi, such as tuna and swordfish, are high in mercury. While mercury levels in sushi are generally considered safe for most adults, pregnant women and young children should limit their consumption of these fish to reduce the risk of mercury toxicity.

When to Avoid Sushi

There are some situations where it may be best to avoid sushi when risks can be heightened. Those include:

During Pregnancy

Is sushi safe to eat while you’re pregnant? Pregnant women should exercise caution when consuming sushi, particularly raw fish, due to the risk of bacterial contamination and mercury exposure. Opting for cooked sushi options (i.e. California roll or Shrimp Tempura) or avoiding sushi altogether during pregnancy is highly recommended.

Immunocompromised Individuals

For immunocompromised individuals, is sushi safe to eat? People with weakened immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy or living with HIV/AIDS, are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses. These individuals may want to avoid consuming raw or undercooked seafood, including sushi, to reduce the risk of infections.

When Traveling to High-Risk Areas

Is sushi safe to eat abroad? It depends on where you’re traveling. In regions where sanitation standards may be lower or where access to fresh seafood is limited, it’s advisable to avoid consuming sushi to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses. If you do choose to enjoy sushi while traveling to another area, be sure to inquire about the preparation style and freshness of the fish. Otherwise, you may opt for a vegetarian sushi roll instead.

Final Word: When Is Sushi Safe to Eat and When to Avoid It

So, is sushi safe to eat? When prepared and consumed responsibly, the answer is likely yes! However, it’s essential to be aware of the potential risks associated with raw seafood and always purchase sushi from reputable sources. To ensure your sushi is safe to consume, we recommend making your own and purchasing fresh fish from a reputable fish supplier. This way, you can see the raw fish, inspect its quality, and ask the fishmonger any questions you may have.

If you’re in the mood for a different kind of signature seafood tonight, NC Seafood Restaurant has you covered. Swing in today for one of our Calabash-style seafood plates—your favorite fried fish complete with hush puppies, coleslaw, and home fries! 

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