Earlier this year, pink slime rocked the fast food community. The meat industry was in damage control as people learned some of their beef was being treated with carbon monoxide. ABC 4 has uncovered a similar problem with a popular fish. Professional sushi chefs call it "techno tuna." like pink slime; the slab of fish is sprayed with carbon monoxide, giving it a pink glow that lasts forever.
Anchor Kim Fischer investigated this tainted tuna, and learns it’s a product shrouded in mystery.
Sushi is the perfect fare for the health conscious. What could be better than raw?
"I expect that it's pretty fresh and that obviously there's a specific standard," said sushi eater, Lacy Barrett.
That standard is called sashimi grade. When tuna is fresh, it's a bright red color, but over time it begins to turn brown letting us know it's no longer good to eat. Well, some really smart scientists figured out if you spray that browning tuna in carbon monoxide gas it will keep an electric pink color forever.
"I want fresh food and I don't want carbon monoxide in my food,” said sushi eater, Cody Nixon
The treatment actually has no taste at all. It just keeps the color bright; I mean really bright, hence the name “techno tuna.”
"It keeps the color but how does that keep its freshness? It sounds like it's fooling the customer," said sushi eater Mark Farley.
We felt the same way, so we went to Yuki Arashi Sushi in Park City, winner of three Best of Utah awards, to learn more about this gassed tuna.
"Sushi is something that you want as soon as possible fresh out of the water. It's healthy food, you don't want to eat anything that has gasses in it or anything that you can't pronounce," said chef, Paul Velo.
Velo has been working with fish for years. He says handling it properly, and serving it within days of it coming out of the water, is of utmost importance. The problem with techno tuna is that restaurants are basically using the honor system.
"Techno tuna is gassed and it comes cryo-vacuumed so it could sit at a purveyor's location for however long before it gets shipped out, we really don't have any way of knowing," Velo said.
That means sushi bars could end up with old fish. Velo said when you serve a fish past its prime, bad things can happen.
"If it's not thawed to the manufacturer's request botulism could be a very big problem," he said.
We wanted to know, who would use this gas induced fish? So we called every sushi restaurant in the Wasatch. To my surprise, not a single one admitted to using it. Velo said someone's not being honest.
"I’ve seen it used in many restaurants," he said.
Next, I called the distributors. Only one got close to saying they offered the tainted tuna.
"The way distributors work is if our customers demand a specific product and it is legal and available, then we will carry it for them," the spokesperson said.
So much mystery, yet, I walked right in to a local grocery store and there it was. It even said "treated with carbon monoxide" right on the label. So are these restaurants and distributors fudging the truth, or do they really not know they could be serving this gassed fish?
"You would think that they would be well aware of the product that they're serving," Velo said.
The sushi eaters we spoke with say not only do they want their restaurants to be educated, they demand it.
"It makes it different quality, I want to go there for quality food," said sushi eater Allison Soriano.
This style of tuna is approved for sale by the FDA, but it’s also been banned in several other countries including Japan, the leading consumer of tuna. ABC 4 also spoke with 3 other high end restaurants that agreed with Velo, there are places here in Salt Lake that serve techno tuna.
Here's what you need to know. If a restaurant is offering tuna for much less than other places, be weary. And if the tuna you’ve ordered looks more watermelon pink than blood red, you should ask questions