From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

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As we enter midsummer in the Northern hemisphere, chances are you’re going out for sushi more than in the winter since it’s relatively light on the stomach. But summer heat also means you need to be a bit more careful about food safety. While sushi does not just mean raw fish, a lot of it is raw; plus, sashimi does involve slices of raw fish So, how safe is it to give raw fish sushi an sashimi to small children? At what age should you start?

Wait until they’re on solid food at the very least

Japanese parenting magazines and websites recommend that you do not feed raw fish products to very young children. Their immature digestive systems can’t handle things that more mature, toughened digestive systems can.

Most sources agree that you should definitely not feed raw or undercooked fish products to babies who aren’t on solid food yet. (Japanese moms typically give their kids who are being weaned cooked, shredded fish along with other baby-friendly food.)

After kids are on solid food, some parents have no problem letting them have raw fish. The generally recommended age at which kids can eat some kinds of raw fish varies from around age 2 1/2 to 3, all the way up to school age or age 6.

Raw shellfish is the least safe type of raw seafood

The safety of raw seafood varies by type. The least safe raw seafood products for immature or compromised digestive systems are shellfish, which can get contaminated very easily. THis should rule out non-sushi raw shellfish like raw clams and oysters too. Freshwater fish, salmon and ‘blue’ fish (the oily fish with blueish skins like mackerel) should also be held back until the kids are older according to most recommendations.

Beware of raw salmon

To address one fish in particular: Fresh (raw) salmon sushi is very popular in the United States and many other places, but it’s not so popular in Japan. Salmon often has parasites, which have to be dealt with before the fish is suitable for consumption. (Cooking kills these parasites.) In addition, traditionally raw salmon was believed to have an oily, unpleasant taste. Most salmon consumed in Japan is still salted; smoked salmon is popular too. Untreated salmon is usually cooked before eating.

Tuna (maguro) and bonito (katsuo, aka skipjack tuna) are considered to be the easiest to digest, and nominally safe for kids. However, tuna in particular is high in mercury these days, so should be eaten sparingly by everyone. Bonito/katsuo is often served seared on the surface (tataki) so it may be a bit safer than totally raw fish for little kids.

Cook the surface of sashimi slices for very small children

If you are serving raw-fish sushi or sashimi at home to small children and you still want them to start enjoying the texture and flavor, it’s recommended to lightly cook the surface of sashimi slices by searing them quickly in a hot frying pan, or swishing them a few timesin boiling water, shabu-shabu-style. Their older siblings and parents can enjoy the raw fish as-is.

There are many cooked sushi items of course, such as tamagoyaki (omelette), boiled shrimp, kanpyo (dried and simmered gourd strips) and so on, as well as vegetables like cucumber and radish sprouts. Cooked sushi or sushi made with vegetables is ok for kids who are on solid food. There’s a lot of cooked sushi to enjoy: most makimono (rolls) are made with cooked neta or vegetables, or just contain a little bit of tuna (tekkamaki).

Sushi is not really everyday food

One more thing to keep in mind though: Sushi rice is high in salt and sugar, and a lot of cooked neta (neta is the stuff that goes on or in the rice) is also highly seasoned. For instance, ikura or salmon caviar is salmon eggs marinated in a very salty soy sauce. In Japan both sushi and sashimi are regarded as occasional treats, mainly due to the expense of really good sashimi or sushi-grade fish. It’s probaby best to follow that way of thinking. (I’ve been asked if sushi is ‘health food’ or ‘good for a diet’ periodically; I’d say no.)

Et tu, raw meat

The recommendations for small children to avoid raw fish applies to raw or very rare meat too. Following a spate of food poisonings in 2011, there was a big campaign to inform parents and kids about the dangers of eating raw meat. For instance, the Korean chopped raw beef dish yukhoe (called yukke in Japan) is very popular in Japan, but following a spate of food poisoning incidents, including some deaths, in 2011, it’s been recommended that people in general should only have it from reputable sources, and that kids should avoid it.

…and even sprouts

While no government entity recommends avoiding raw vegetables, you may want to be a bit wary of feeding very small children raw sprouts. Many of the recent e.coli outbreaks have been caused by vegetable sprouts, such as the widespread outbreak in Germany in 2011. See: Sprouts: What You Should Know.

Incidentally, until the postwar period it was considered to be unhealthy and undesirable to serve any raw, untreated vegetables in Japan. Vegetables were almost always cooked, pickled, salted and so on befure eating. This has totally changed now of course - raw salads and the like are very popular.

In any case, I hope this has been helpful to you. If you have any questions about specific types of sushi and the like, let me know in the comments.

(This is an answer I originally wrote on the Q and A social media site Quora. I’ve edited and expanded on my original answer here, since I thought it we of interest to JustHungry readers.)

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Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

indeed, that is good to know. I am hoping to grow some adventurous eaters one day and knowing when to introduce them to this delicious cuisine would be good to know beforehand.
Thank you or thinking of us!

midnightagenda | 9 July, 2013 - 23:17

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

Here in the US, FDA law states that salmon must be frozen for a specific amount of time before being served raw due to parasites. Most of the time, it is flash frozen and kept frozen for 24-48 hours to effectively kill any nematodes. Food and Drug Administration regulations stipulate that fish to be eaten raw (sushi, sashimi, ceviche, or tartare) must be frozen first to kill parasites with the exception of tuna. Even the most haute cuisine places like Nobu in New York state that a lot of their sushi is frozen first, but with flash freezing even the chef cannot tell between that and never-frozen in a blind test.

So obviously there is more of a risk if you are catching your own salmon and trying to freeze it yourself, most of the time your freezer will not freeze it fast enough before it becomes mushy, or it might not be cold enough to kill the parasites.

I know my Japanese American grandma avoids raw salmon no matter what articles I dredge up, and I happen to like salted salmon better anyhow. She avoids most raw fish now that she's older, saying that elderly and babies should avoid it to be safe.

Here's a couple articles:
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/08/nyregion/08SUSH.html?scp=1&sq=moskin%2...

http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/GuidanceRegulation/UCM252393.pdf

missmochi | 10 July, 2013 - 00:44

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

THANK YOU for pointing out that sushi is a treat, not an everyday meal. It seems most people in the US I've met think sushi to the Japanese is like sandwiches to Americans.

I usually tell them: No, it's like a good steak. You don't eat it every day, and it's treat when you do. You can serve it at home if you buy the good stuff and have the right equipment to make it, but usually you go out to eat it.

anon. | 10 July, 2013 - 03:21

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

I agree about sushi being a treat because, like anything - except Prada and you can never have too much Prada (esp if someone else is paying for it hehehe) - it loses it's uniqueness and the variety it adds to peoples culinary lives.

I personally would have classic, hand crafted ramen every day but then, it would become mundane and I would start taking the effort, talent and dedication of the maker for granted.

There's a whole world of food, why focus on one teeny slice of it!

Melvis | 10 July, 2013 - 21:08

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

What a dumb article! Apparently the author has never heard of, or thought about, Japan!

anon. | 10 July, 2013 - 22:55

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

I'm Japanese actually, born and bred, and as I clearly stated I am quoting from parenting authorities in guess what - Japan.

maki | 11 July, 2013 - 13:37

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

I got fed up of all the dreadful English language information dispensed in maternity magazines and all over the web about the dangers of raw seafood for pregnant women that took no account of advice given to Japanese mothers-to-be. I would guess that ANON has simply read the title of this article and assumed that similar unresearched information is being given out by someone ignorant of Japanese customs and the current advice given there regarding young children.
I understand the anger, it is a shame that ANON didn't actually read the article or fully grasp its nature. If s/he had it would have become apparent that this article is the very antithesis of what ANON is railing against.

Loretta | 12 July, 2013 - 17:19

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

Apart from how obviously rude it is to insult someone's article...How do you KNOW whether they've been to, or know about Japan without asking, or without knowing the person in question? Bit presumptuous to say the least.

Besides that, as someone just learning about different kinds of food and how to cook, particularly Japanese dishes, I found it a very educational article.

Snake | 21 August, 2013 - 03:51

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

I think it's an excellent article. And you're just not getting it!

Olivia | 6 September, 2013 - 09:58

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

I know sushi is not really everyday food in Japan, but in the US you can buy it almost anywhere. It is sold in the grocery store, the snack bar at my university, sometimes even convenience stores. Is sushi sold similarly in Japan or is it largely only sold in restaurants?

Thanks for the information, I have wondered this before but never when I was by a computer.

anon. | 11 July, 2013 - 00:18

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

Sushi is sold everywhere in Japan too - in way more places than in the U.S. That doesn't mean it should be eaten every day. Some people do I suppose, but some people also eat ramen every day. Neither is really healthy, everyday food.

maki | 11 July, 2013 - 13:16

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

That's interesting about salmon. I've lived in Japan 23 years now; for sure raw salmon is much more popular now than it was a few decades ago. Perhaps they do flash freezing here as well like a previous commentator mentioned. A very small quibble: I wouldn't say sushi rice is high in sugar and salt. It has a small amount of each, but, especially when you consider that the rest of the meal has very little of either, I'd say it falls very happily within the category of a sensible dinner.

jean | 11 July, 2013 - 10:26

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

You also eat a lot of white rice with a standard serving of sushi, more than you might eat with a regular meal. I stand by my statement that sushi is a treat food, not an everyday food.

maki | 11 July, 2013 - 13:12

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

Great article, thank you.

We have a 21 month old, and she's been eating sushi since she was seven months old. She's only had ebi nigiri (with a cooked prawn), tomago nikiri or a California roll with tuna/avo/cucumber.

It's important to us that our daughter is an adventurous eater, and we are huge sushi fans. Having said that, she's only had it, max, once a month. And she's not had raw fish/shellfish yet, and no soy.

Like anything, a side portion of common sense is a great serving suggestion!

Vickyb | 11 July, 2013 - 14:56

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

Oops! I had asked previously what the Japanese view was on raw fish for pregnant ladies and took on board the information thinking much of it would apply once my daughter was on solids.
Sushi is an occasional treat for our family, mostly because we can only bear to eat the 'good stuff' which isn't cheap. I'd say we eat it about 4 times a year. Even though we went against some of the advice you kindly translated and interpreted, I'm not too concerned. Didn't happen often and no use fretting about it now.
Whenever we had the opportunity to eat high quality sushi and sashimi, in London and in Japan, we leapt on it and ensured our little girl had the chance to taste it also. Needless to say, she LOVES good sushi and has done since she was about 8 or 9 months old.
Japanese foods she particularly enjoys (and has always enjoyed) are:
Nori - I've still to meet a toddler who doesn't like it, best cut up small so they don't choke
Hijiki seaweed
Ikura and other fish eggs. I'll stress that, my daughter ADORES ikura.
All fish, cooked in any way.
High grade sea urchin
I don't know what those crunchy dried tiny baby sardine type fishes are called, but boy, she really likes those
Tofu (seems to like tofu in the same way she likes eggs)
Senbei/Kakimochi rice crackers, particularly those with nori or dried shrimp or fish. Originally baby senbei (which dissolves) now the good stuff!
Rice and mochi (again, making sure the mochi is cut into tiny portions and that she is supervised whilst eating it, another choking hazard)
All the received wisdom I grew up accepting about young children only liking bland foods and that everything needs to be mashed and liquidised turned out to be nonsense as far as my own kid was concerned.
We don't consider ourselves or our child to be particularly adventurous eaters, just that it would be a terrible shame if she were to visit her family in Japan and Spain and just say "yuck" any time anyone made a meal for her or took her out to eat. She's nearly 4 now, no sign of her being a picky eater, she just turns away food that isn't fresh, somehow she just knows. Our main rule is that we have never ever given her foods we ourselves don't eat and enjoy.

Loretta | 12 July, 2013 - 16:14

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

Dear Maki & friends,
I live in Australia & visit Japan every year to see the in-laws & do some serious eating. I'd like to explain why I don't normally eat sushi or salmon in Australia.
The salmon consumed here is farmed in Tasmania & it's a huge worldwide export industry worth millions. The salmon are kept in overcrowded pens & fed massive amounts of anti-biotics - vets say they have to, otherwise the fish wouldn't survive under these conditions. Yet they rely on the clean, green & pristine image of Tasmania to promote this industry.

I am no extreme environmentalist nor rabid animal or pescatorial libertarian but it doesn't sit well with me. It seems akin to battery chicken farming, a not particularly healthy option for us nor the fish either. Not to mention the consequences of those antibiotics leeching into the surrounding environment; the habitat of the crayfish, oysters and other fish (as the salmon pens are just offshore.)
So salmon has become the cheapest & most plentiful fish option (besides the farmed fish we import from Vietnam & Thailand, none of which can be used for sushi/sashimi.) If you see fish in sushi here it's always raw salmon, the other option is cooked or raw, low grade tuna norimaki.
Australia's wild caught fish (blue fin tuna, etc) are from pristine waters but most of it is exported to other countries such as Japan. Now Blue fin tuna ranches are operating in southern Australia too.
It's harder than you think to buy fresh fish here & I live in a major city. I have to travel some way to a special market to buy my fish(otherwise it's salmon or imported frozen fillets of ancient origin in the supermarket.) We are still predominantly a meat based culture. So fish is an expensive option for the average table.
Despite being surrounded by pristine waters, the sushi options here are surprisingly poor, it's not easy to find sashimi grade fish - you need to go to specialist suppliers & pay premium prices. And sushi sold here are mostly made by people completely untrained & totally unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine.
Sushi equates to norimaki to most Australians & very popular amongst Asian Australians - if you visit Australia you will have about 4 options: salmon, tuna and either something like 'chilli fried chicken' norimake or 'crispy deep fried prawn with chilli sauce' they feature in every sushi shop window in my city. Makes the California roll seem more & more authentic! There is not a large population of Japanese here, most immigrants from the region are from South East Asia, China & lately from Korea so the food has been adapted to suit different tastes. But it means most Australians have never tried real Japanese sushi.
You may be lucky to find a properly trained Japanese sushi chef but they are indeed rare.
When buying fresh fish my husband has been asked several times at different fish suppliers if he could train the staff at the store in sushi making - because he is Japanese they think he is an expert!
I am pleased however that more people are travelling to Japan these days & are experiencing good sushi for themselves.
I'm curious to find out from everyone, what's the sushi like in your country?

Lili | 13 July, 2013 - 04:41

Re: What's sushi like in your country? UK-London

Hi Lili, interesting post. Thank you!
For most people, the food they understand as sushi is what they pick up at the supermarket or at their sandwich/ready made food chain. Here is a list of ingredients from one of the better selections:
Sushi Rice (74% - Cooked Rice, Spirit Vinegar, Rice Vinegar, Sugar, Salt, Reconstituted Maize Syrup, Refined Water), Fish (15% - Salmon Trout, Prawn, Salmon, Tuna, Shrimps), Veg (4% - Cucumber, Yellow Pepper, Green Beans, Red Pepper, Coriander, Rocket, Spring Onion), Wasabi (Horseradish Relish Contains Colour (E140)), Soy Sauce, Pickled Ginger (Ginger, Salt, Acidity Regulator ((E260), (E330)), Sweetener (E421), Preservative (E202)), Seaweed, Chilli Sauce, Sesame Seeds, Mayonnaise, Miso, Vegetable Oil, Garlic Puree, Chilli Pepper
Another common fish used is surimi, a white fish paste which is also popular in Japanese low grade sushi.
There is a small but demanding community of Japanese consumers in London so good sushi and sashimi is available. Britain's most famous sushi lover took his entire team to Nobu the day after he won the trophy at Wimbledon, but you can find cheaper (and, arguably, better) sushi elsewhere, such as Shimogamo in Camden. But places with what Japanese clients regard as good sushi and sashimi are not that common. For instance, there is a popular fishmongers in Primrose Hill * with a loyal set of Japanese customers. They only sell sashimi on Saturdays and this is barely advertised (who knows how many other 'secret' options there are, particularly in West London where there is a notable Japanese school). I went to a party this weekend where a sashimi platter from the Primrose Hill fishmonger featured as part of a make your own temaki sushi buffet (also featured a gorgeous takuan brought to London from Japan, shoyu and mirin braised shiitake, and plenty of other vegetables including ooba shiso leaves I picked that morning and brought along). My view is that unless you have tried good sushi you don't generally demand it or go looking for it, most people have never experienced it and so are content with the coriander/cilantro laced options given to them. It is getting better, then again, it does make a difference being in London.

* website for fishmonger http://lapetite-poissonnerie.co.uk/ (this sort of fishmonger is very rare in London)

Loretta | 16 July, 2013 - 09:02

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

When I was pregnant, I was told not to eat sashimi or the raw varieties of sushi. So, when my son started taking an interest in what was on my plate, I made certain that I had veggie rolls and "cooked" selections available for him. He was so enamored, that he wanted us to serve sushi at his second birthday party! He's just turned 16, and California Rolls are still a favorite with him and his siblings.

Deb | 2 August, 2013 - 10:55

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

My daughter has eaten sushi since she was 2½, so we instinctively hit the right window. She enjoyed (and still enjoys) it immensely.

Feeding her with chopsticks was always fun for me. I know that you are supposed to eat it by hand, but it made it easier to reach her without standing up.

One word of caution, though: Make sure that a small child doesn't reach out suddenly and grabs the wasabi. That happened to us. Even the waitress rushed over and we had to hold our daughter's hand to stop her stuffing the whole clump of wasabi in her mouth.

Erik | 17 August, 2013 - 10:46

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

Great article! My youngest brother is four years old and has recently had his first taste of sushi.

Esmee | 1 September, 2013 - 19:15

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

This was great, thank you. My boys are 8 and 4 and love sushi. My husband just recently decided he didn't like them eating it. Which is killing me... the 8 yr likes to add wasabi to his as well, not too much at a time as you can actually get sick. I too refuse to allow my boys to be picky eaters, but didn't start them with the raw. Their favorite is still unagi, although adventure the raw when daddy isn't around to judge. Anyway, I'm happy I found this article along with all the comments. Ill still research further, which id recommend to anyone, but again thank you!

Dawn | 27 January, 2014 - 06:39

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

Baby food is a very important thing for every baby, what type of food they can take is very important and how to digest also. Children how can take the sea food is very important and in which time we should give the things.
steal of the day

elvinernest | 7 February, 2014 - 15:24

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

I don't agree that they shouldn't be fed raw foods because their stomachs can't handle it, raw meat is more digestible and more nutritious.
I would like to thank you for your wonderful websites, you are very generous to give us such amazing recipes for free! I can't wait until we get the new oven so that I can try them out! I never thought that I could miss an oven so much...

anon. | 25 February, 2014 - 01:08

Re: From what age it safe to give sushi or sashimi to kids?

Nice article on solid foods for baby. You can also find some more knowledge on this kids health blog.

Sneha | 31 October, 2014 - 13:00

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