California rollsPhoto: Subbotina Anna (Shutterstock)

“Gas station sushi” has become a kind of punch line, something that obviously shouldn’t be eaten, something that shouldn’t be there. But is it really more likely that sushi leads to food poisoning than the ham sandwich that sits right next to it in the gas station cooler? And is it really different from sushi made in a fancy restaurant?

To find out if there is really something wrong with gas station sushi, I asked Don Schaffner, a food safety expert at Rutgers University.

Is gas station sushi safe?

“If it’s not made from raw fish (such as a Californian bun),” says Schaffner, “there is probably the same risk as the ham sandwich. If it’s done with raw fish, I’d steer clear. “

Sushi is probably best known for its pieces of raw fish, but many sushi dishes use cooked seafood. California buns are made with cooked crab (or often “fake crab,” which is actually made from fish). Eel (Unagi) is always cooked. Prawns, squids, cuttlefish and clams are often cooked.

California rolls are probably the most common type of prepackaged sushi (and I personally love Trader Joe’s flavorful California roll). This may be the best option the next time you’re at a gas station and crave sushi. However, if the offer is only about raw fish, you’d better wait until you get to a proper sushi place.

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Where it comes from is more important when the fish is raw

Raw fish can be tasty, however It carries a higher risk of parasites and foodborne diseases than most cooked foods.

Some lower quality sushi are made with it Scratch tunaThis is a raw fish product that has been linked to salmonella outbreaks. It’s not necessarily unsafe, but the fact that it is processed more heavily means that it has more chances of being contaminated.

Schaffner says he eats raw sushi, but only in a real sushi restaurant. “I don’t want this risk [from raw fish] to be dealt with by the lowest bidder on the gas station sushi contract or an employee who also sells gasoline and cigarettes. I would rather entrust this risk management to trained cooks and staff who know what they are doing. “