September 28th, 2004

Fishy Circumstances


Last night, a member of my gaming group mentioned that fresh fish - such as is used in sushi - was going to be banned in Ontario. "Where did you read that?" we asked, surprised. "In the Post", he answered, and we all dismissed the news as scare-mongering on the part of that newspaper.

Today, the Globe and Mail reported it, and now it's all over the Ontario food world. Ontario now requires "fish that is served raw to have been frozen to minus 20 degrees for seven days or minus 35 degrees for 15 hours." (Fresh, unfrozen fish can still be used if it will be fully cooked.) (Note also, these regulations only apply to restaurants and other dedicated food businesses.) Most sushi, as it happens, is frozen first, and tastes pretty good despite its method of storage. Top sushi restaurants, however, specialize in fresh fish, and their customers wouldn't have it any other way. From the Globe and Mail article again: Ichi Riki restaurant just east of Yorkville, where Minoru Seiriki was trying to get a handle on how his raw-fish business will be compromised. "Snapper is far too soggy when you thaw it," he says, "and it looks just miserable. Giant clam, if you try to freeze it, turns into rubber. You can see why we don't welcome this law."

The ruling as been enacted as a preventative against tapeworms and roundworms which, while some fish are infected by these, doctors in the article claimed they'd never seen a case of it in Ontario. The act is entirely preventative. It is, however, based on more wide-ranging guidelines developed by both Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ontario, however, is "the only province to have turned a guideline into an all-or-nothing law."

Sushi-lovers of Ontario are indignant. The Toronto Area Sushi Society isn't sure what to do yet, but "Something must be done." One Globe and Mail columnist, at least, wants her fresh sushi back.

Others are being more pro-active. As I write, petitions are springing up around the Ontario foodie world. Someone on Chowhound recommend writing your MPP. Via eGullet, there's a petition brewing at mightydoll (via piratehead) has posted telephone and mailing address details for the Health Office of Ontario.

But where did this law come from? It was an amendment passed earlier this year to the Health Protection and Promotion Act. The full text of the amendment, which is extensive, is available here. It came into effect on the first of September, according to the Globe and Mail article. I know that most people don't read the fine text of long legal documents, but why is it only receiving attention now, nearly four weeks after it legally came into effect?

(Crossposted to toronto_eats.)