Out of all the bills Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed into law this past term, this certainly is the stickiest.
When the new legislation rolls out in October 2016, Connecticut restaurants will be allowed to store sushi rice at room temperature during meal service. As of now, local health departments have no guidance on the issue.
According to Cynthia Tun, owner of Edo Sushi Express in Oakville, this lack of uniform regulation allowed health inspectors to enforce misinformed procedures on those in the sushi service industry.
“The health inspectors in different locations had different rules about sushi rice; if you look at guidelines by other states you can go from one town to another and everything is the same, but here in Connecticut everything is subjective,” Tun said. “It was all about time and temperature and the request would be ridiculously based.”
Sushi rice, like mayonnaise, uses vinegar as an acidifying agent. Though both foods have a pH level of 4.1, an unopened jar of mayonnaise has a widely-accepted shelf life of around six months while sushi rice storage often comes under scrutiny by public health officials.
“One health inspector would tell us that you have to throw away that pot of rice after two hours after it reaches room temperature,” Tun said. “We had a friend who was told that they had to roll the rice when it was hot, because when it reaches room temperature it’s going to go bad. His hands were literally scalded by the rice. Another location said you have to refrigerate the rice, if it’s not at 40 degrees bacteria will grow. You go from one place to another and everyone has their own opinion.”
Tun said that the bacteria these health officials attempting to fend off will not grow in the room temperature rice for at least six to eight hours. Foods with a pH around 7 are ideal for bacterial growth, but once the pH drops under 4.6 the harmful germs are less likely to spread.
“They’re simply ridiculous,” Tun said of the procedures mandated by the health officials. “They’re ludicrous.”
Department of Health Commissioner Jewel Mullen, who testified against the bill during the hearings in February, said that the complex acidification process would require a depth of knowledge on the part of establishment operators to ensure their rice was not hazardous.
However, the bill, instead of requiring training for health inspectors, simply requires the Health Department to come up with regulations which will then be published.
Tun said she brought her frustrations to Sen. Robert Kane, R-Watertown, who proposed the legislation. She said that, although some have been teasing Kane about what they view as insignificant legislation, the bill demonstrates a commitment to small business owners.
“In actuality it’s a service to small business persons like us,” Tun said. “We’re a small minority. As the industry is growing, more and more people are doing it and are interested in having sushi. As more and more are making sushi, these issues have to be addressed.”
Kane, who has also recognized that the bill has been target of ridicule, agreed with the sentiment.
“This new law shows that lawmakers are listening to the concerns of our local businesses and taking action to help.”
Malloy signed the bill into law on July 6.