Salmon sushi by wooden chopsticks


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We’ll cut to the chase: The terms sushi- and sashimi-grade are meaningless. That’s because no one — not the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), nor the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)  — regulates the designation. Instead, it’s used to market fish to consumers who don’t know any better.

“It's like a Wild West out there when it comes to what [sushi-grade fish] means,” chef and food writer Nathaniel Lee tells Cheapism. “Some say it's prime, top-notch fish, while others raise their eyebrows and give it the side-eye.”

Despite the label’s lack of definition or regulation, it persists at fish markets and grocery stores. Even Food & Wine magazine uses the term, defining it as “the best quality fish you can buy,” when, in reality, you could buy a goldfish from PetCo and call it sushi-grade.

“The lack of standardization has led to confusion among consumers, leaving them questioning [the label’s] authenticity and whether it's truly worth the premium price,” says Emma Parker, a fish expert and co-founder of The Trout Fish, a fishing website.

Note: This article is about fish (vertebrates), not shellfish (invertebrates).

Fish MarketPhoto credit: zoranm/istockphoto

Shopping for High-Quality Fish

Because the label lacks a standardized definition, home cooks have to rely on other means to find safe-to-eat raw fish. We offer a few common guidelines that, while not foolproof, will help you find high-quality, parasite-free raw fish.

Buy Previously Frozen Fish

The main concern with raw fish is that it contains parasites. To reduce the risk of eating infected fish, the FDA recommends freezing fish at temperatures as low as -31 degrees Fahrenheit. Given that you can’t reach these temperatures with a commercial freezer, you should ask whether your fish has been previously frozen in a super freezer. If done properly, this will kill parasites.

Shop for Tuna and Farmed Fish

Both large species of tuna and farmed fish are not considered parasite hazards, though they’re safe for different reasons. Certain species of tuna have been eaten raw so often and with so few parasitic infections that the FDA doesn’t consider them a risk. On the other hand, farmed fish (Serious Eats recommends salmon) don’t eat parasite-carrying prey, and so they shouldn’t infect consumers either. “Species that normally have a parasite hazard as a result of consuming infected prey apparently do not have the same parasite hazard when raised only on pelleted feed in an aquaculture operation,” the FDA explains. Consequently, your best bet is to buy fresh marine tuna and farmed fish to avoid infection.

Look for Whole Fish

In an interview with Serious Eats, restaurateur and sushi chef Yuji Haraguchi says that it’s best to buy whole fish from the market, as it’s easier to gauge freshness and prepare the fish yourself. That said, you’ll have to know how to scale, gut, and cut the fish yourself.

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Buying Fresh salmonPhoto credit: Juanmonino/istockphoto

Avoid Freshwater Species

According to Serious Eats, freshwater fish are more susceptible to tapeworms, a more serious parasite. It’s easier, then, to simply avoid wild freshwater and anadromous fish altogether.

Talk to a Fishmonger

Unless you’re an expert, you’re sort of at the mercy of fishmongers and food labels. The Trout Fish's Emma Parker encourages customers to engage in “transparent dialogue” with suppliers, making sure to “ask questions about the sourcing and handling practices” of the fish.

Properly Store and Prepare Your Fish

Bacterial contamination is a greater risk than parasites, according to experts who spoke to Serious Eats. It's therefore paramount to ensure that the fish market and consumer properly store and prepare the meat, keeping it below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and maintaining clean hands and surfaces.

Related: 6 Ways To Add Fish to Your Diet Without Busting Your Budget

Chef coock cut fresh sushi rolls with sharp knife on the cutting board in restaurant. hands close upPhoto credit: VlaDee/istockphoto

The Bottom Line

While some sushi-grade fish is no doubt of the highest quality, the label is meaningless. But that doesn’t mean you can’t serve raw fish at home. If you stick to fresh marine and/or farmed fish that’s been treated in a super freezer, you can significantly reduce the chance that your fish is infected with parasites. In the end, however, you should realize that eating raw fish comes with risks, even if you do follow every possible precaution. If you can’t accept that, then you may want to leave raw fish to the experts.

A few things to remember:

  • Only shop for marine and/or farmed fish

  • Stick to tuna and farmed salmon

  • If possible, buy fish that has been treated in a super freezer

  • Communicate with your local fishmonger

  • Properly store and prepare your fish

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes fish sushi-grade?

Since there’s no regulator who dictates what is and isn’t sushi- or sashimi-grade, the label carries little weight. Even if farmers, retailers, and fish markets use the label, it’s a meaningless term used simply to market the fish.

Where can I buy sushi-grade fish?

Sushi-grade isn’t a meaningful label. Instead, look for fish that’s been farmed and/or treated in a super freezer.

Is Costco salmon sushi grade?

Ignore the sushi-grade labels at Costco and simply buy farmed salmon. The Sushi Guy, a popular TikToker, makes sashimi using a filet of farmed salmon from Costco. Even if it hasn't been treated in a super freezer, it should be relatively safe to eat because the fish is farmed.

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