TAMPA - Sushi is considered healthy and nutritious, but last month, 19 states reported more than 90 people getting sick from a salmonella outbreak caused by sushi. Investigators are focusing on spicy tuna rolls in particular.
While Florida was not one of the states, we looked through the inspection records of 100 sushi restaurants in the bay area from the last year and found concerning critical violations that could make you sick.
That includes raw tuna at 61 degrees, raw shrimp and fish over cooked tempura, which is a cross contamination issue, and restaurants that had to throw out food because they were at hazardous temperatures.
Willy Pudsone's restaurant topped the list on critical violations and stop sales.
"So the sushi is what you're having an issue with?" We asked. "Yes ma'am," Pudsone responded.
Pudsone has owned many Thai restaurants over the last 20 years, but for the first time, he's serving sushi at Lanna Thai and Sushi at 4871 Park Street North in St. Petersburg.
More: Read all the way through to see a list of sushi restaurants with critical violations.
"This whole sushi thing. Its been a challenge for you to serve something you've never served before?" we asked.
"Yes ma'am but we learn by the inspector," Pudsone admitted.
Lanna Tai and Sushi had 47 critical violations over the last year, many dealing with the temperature of food.
In March, inspectors ordered the restaurant to throw out three pounds of sushi rice because it was at a hazardous temperature. It's the same violation cited in September.
"The most important thing about raw fish is that you do keep it at the correct temperature," said Chef Wilson, who has 30 years of experience in the food industry and teaches at the Culinary School inside the Art Institute of Tampa.
Part of her curriculum includes preparing sushi and sashimi. She says sushi rice in particular needs to be kept at the right temperature and tossed out every four hours or it could make you sick.
"It's a vinegar rice and as we know, when we have acid that we add to something like rice, it can breed food-borne illness after a certain period of time. We want to make sure we are changing it out on a regular basis," she said.
And since rice needs to be a perfect consistency when preparing sushi, Chef Wilson says it must be fresh.
"If you use rice that's been out or refrigerated for a long period of time, it's not usable for sushi. It doesn't roll right. It doesn't work right. And it's not just the possibility of the food-borne illness," Chef Wilson added.
In our review of over 100 state inspection reports, we also found over a dozen sushi restaurants storing raw product over ready to eat food, a cross contamination issue that can cause food-borne illness.
So what should you look for before eating sushi?
"Fish should not smell like fish. Fish should smell like the ocean," Wilson said.
The color and texture of the fish can also determine its freshness.
"If it's slimy, you don't want it. If it's squishy, you don't want it. The skin should be taut and it should give a little bit," Wilson added.
And before heading out to eat, check inspection records.
Of the 100 sushi restaurant reports we looked at, almost ten percent had roaches or rodents. The same problem Pudsone dealt with in March, after inspectors found "too many rodent droppings to count."
He showed us the improvements he's made including plugging up holes in the ceiling and fixing his coolers. But he says he's learned from it all.
"We don't want this to happen again."
Bay area sushi restaurants with critical violations over the past year according to state inspection reports:
- BAN THAI SUSHI, 2519 MCMULLEN BOOTH RD # 506, CLEARWATER
- BASIL LEAF THAI AND SUSHI BAR, 6395 GULF BLVD, ST PETE BEACH
- HIRO'S TOKYO JAPANESE STEAK HOUSE & SUSHI BAR, 5250 4TH ST N, ST PETERSBURG
- ICHIBAN BUFFET RESTAUARNT, 1721 W BRANDON BLVD, BRANDON
- JIMMY'S SUSHI BAR & RESTAURANT, 5731 SEMINOLE BLVD, SEMINOLE
- JO-TO JAPANESE RESTAURANT, 310 S. DALE MABRY, TAMPA
- LANNA THAI, 4871 PARK ST N, PINELLAS PARK
- MIGI SUSHI ASIAN CAFÉ, 4420 E STATE ROAD 64, BRADENTON
- N CAFÉAND GRILL, INC, 2903 N NEBRASKA AVE, TAMPA
- OCEAN BLUE JAPANESE RESTAURAUNT AND SUSHI BAR, 2475 N MCMULLEN BOOTH RD #M, CLEARWATER
- SAMURAI JAPANESE STEAK HOUSE & SUSHI BAR, 3611 1 ST STE# 110, BRADENTON
- SAMUARI BLUE, 1600 EAST 8TH AVENUE # C208, TAMPA
- SOHOSUSHI, 2826 E BEARSS AVE, TAMPA
- SUSHIKO, 19050 BRUCE B DOWNS BLVD, TAMPA
- SUSHI NINJA JAPANESE, 887 E BLOOMINGDALE AVE, BRANDON
- THAI AM 2 RESTAURANT, 13037 GULF BLVD, MADEIRA BEACH
- TSUNAMI SUSHI, 317 CENTRAL AVE, WINTER HAVEN
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