Concerned about food borne illness, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (“NYC Department of Health”) adopted a new set of health regulations impacting sushi restaurants across New York City.(1)

Sushi quickly made its way onto the list of trendy New York City delicacies. Eager diners have flocked to sushi restaurants and sushi bars for their artistic and innovative sushi offerings. As New Yorkers savored the Japanese art, the NYC Department of Health became concerned with the risk of food poisoning and harmful bacteria associated with consuming raw fish.

By regulations adopted on March 10, 2015 and effective as of August 8, 2015, the NYC Department of Health requires that fish for raw consumption must be frozen and stored at temperatures as low as minus thirty one (-31° F) degrees Fahrenheit for periods of up to seven days.(2) The freezing process is intended “to destroy parasites in fish or fish products that are to be consumed raw…”(3)

While the change may seem contradictory to eating the “freshest” sushi, many of NYC’s finest sushi restaurants already embrace strict freezing requirements, using medical cryogenic freezers to reduce the risk of parasites and harmful bacteria.(4) In fact, some restaurants currently use freezing processes that reach temperatures of minus eighty three (-83° F) degrees Fahrenheit.(5)

Certain types of fish for raw consumption are excepted from the new regulations, including specific types of tuna, molluscan shellfish, aquacultered or farm raised fish, such as salmon, and fish eggs that have been removed from the skin and rinsed.(6)

Further, effective as of January 1, 2016, restaurants that serve raw fish will be required to provide, in writing, a consumer advisory regarding the risk of food borne illness.(7) Specifically, “when meat, fish, molluscan shellfish, or unpasteurized raw shell eggs are offered alone or as an ingredient in other foods, and are either raw or heated to a temperature below … [that which is now required], written notice must be provided to consumers of the increased risk of food borne illness from eating such raw or undercooked foods.”(8) Prior to January 1, 2016, warnings are still required, but may be given orally and need not be in writing.

With consumer health a foremost concern for the NYC Department of Health, the regulations seem to codify a practice already embraced by a number of sushi restaurants in NYC, but smaller sushi outfits may be left in the cold as a result of the freezing regulations. For example, some restaurants may not have the resources with which to purchase, or the physical space in which to store, the necessary freezers. The restaurants that fail to comply may be subject to fines of up to $2,000 for each violation.(9)

Are these new regulations a “raw deal” for sushi restaurants (especially those that cannot comply), or do they provide consumers with significant added protection against food borne illness? Only time will tell.

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1 Ashley Welch, Frozen Tuna Recalled after Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Sushi, CBS News (July 23, 2015), http://www.cbsnews.com/news/frozen-tuna-recall-after-salmonella-outbreak-linked-to-sushi/; Greg Morabito, DOH Announces Chilly Regulation About Freezing Raw Fish Before Serving, NY Eater (July 13, 2015), http://ny.eater.com/2015/7/13/8945711/raw-fish-freezing-nyc

2 New York City, N.Y., Rules, Tit. 24, Health Code, §81.09(b)

3 New York City, N.Y., Rules, Tit. 24, Health Code, §81.09(b)

4 Morabito, supra note 1.

5 Morabito, supra note 1.

6 New York City, N.Y., Rules, Tit. 24, Health Code, §81.09(b).

7 New York City, N.Y., Rules, Tit. 24, Health Code, §81.11.

8 New York City, N.Y., Rules, Tit. 24, Health Code, §81.11.

9 New York City, N.Y., Rules, Tit. 24, Health Code, §3.11.