Over the past few years, sushi, once solely the domain of Japanese restaurants, has begun to pop up in the unlikeliest of places: supermarkets. Where exactly does supermarket sushi come from? And can it really be trusted?
Supermarket sushi is one of those things that might make you scratch your head a little. Sushi, in its finest form, is made to order from the highest-quality seafood, within full view of the customer; in a supermarket it’s sitting out on the refrigerated shelf like a pre-made deli sandwich. Most of the time there’s no branding or manufacturer name on the package; it almost seems to be taunting us: “You want sushi, yuppie? Well, here it is! No guarantees!”
While pre-packaged sushi might seem like a sketchy enterprise, it’s actually a well-organized (and lucrative) business. Fuji Food, for example, pioneered supermarket sushi back in the 1990s, and today they supply fresh sushi to more than 4,000 major supermarkets in 44 states (including Albertson’s, Costco, A&P, BJ’s, Trader Joe’s, and Safeway), producing more than one million packages of sushi and other fresh Asian food per month from four central kitchens.
It’s not easy to deliver millions of packages of pre-made sushi to supermarkets every year, so Fuji employs more than 150 logistics team members to sort it all out. As for health safeguards, the quality of the fish used is the same as you’ll find at your usual trustworthy neighborhood sushi joint, there’s a Quality Assurance and Safety Team that makes sure that all the fish used is fresh, and all facilities are HACCP-compliant. Deliveries are made by company refrigerated trucks daily, and on the whole it seems pretty legitimate.
There are certainly other sushi delivery companies large and small out there, but when you see sushi hanging out on the shelf at the supermarket, it most likely came from Fuji or a similar enterprise.
One other service that Fuji provides is an In-Store Chef Program, which is becoming more and more popular. Most people still don’t trust sushi unless they see it being made in front of them, so plenty of supermarkets and specialty groceries are hiring full-time sushi chefs to prepare sushi in full view of customers, and some, Like Whole Foods and Wegman’s, even have full-service sushi bars. Heck, even several locations of New York pharmacies Duane Reade and Walgreens have in-store sushi chefs (who must feel a little awkward). Companies like Hissho Sushi specialize in providing turn-key sushi bars to supermarkets, cafes, universities, corporate cafeterias, and the like, skipping over pre-made sushi entirely.
So the moral of the story is that, for the most part, supermarket sushi is nothing to be afraid of. It’s most likely no more than a day old, and was made using the same quality ingredients that most Japanese restaurants use, and with even more oversight, most likely.
So go forth, brave eater, and don’t fear the supermarket sushi. But one piece of advice: Don’t opt for the spicy tuna.