Itamae accused of serving bugs in food

Students take concerns to Reddit and Waterloo Public Health after dining at the sushi restaurant

Photo by Rebecca Allison
Photo by Rebecca Allison

Four students who went out for dinner at Itamae Sushi on Dec. 10 did not have the experience they were expecting when they allegedly found small black bugs crawling on their sashimi.

According to one of the students, Muhammad Ahmed, the bugs were the size of sesame seeds and were discovered close to the end of the meal.

“The real concern here is that we really don’t know whether we possibly ate some before we actually noticed the bugs,” said the third-year environment and business major at the University of Waterloo.

“By the time we noticed that they were insects, we don’t know what we had eaten and what we didn’t.”

Despite this worry, none of the party members fell ill from eating at the restaurant.

Itamae denied accusations of there being multiple bugs crawling on the food, and said a fruit fly was simply stuck to one piece of sashimi.

“The sashimi has water around that, so the fruit fly would stick on that … there is water on the outside so their wings are going to stick on the food,” said Itamae’s manager Jenny Yang.

Ahmed said the most astonishing part of the experience was the restaurant’s reaction to the incident.

“The waiters really weren’t surprised or shocked at all,” he explained. “It was just almost as if the waiters or management there was playing it down as if it was no big deal.”

According to Yang, the server initially offered to exchange the food for a new portion. Yang explained that the server was newly employed and was unclear with how to approach the situation. Yang was not working that night and therefore was unable to rectify the incident.

The group was offered a discount and according to Ahmed, the server threatened to call the police if he and his friends refused to pay. Tired of arguing with the servers, the group finally agreed to pay with the 50 per cent discount offered.

Upon returning home, the group reviewed the restaurant poorly on a number of different websites. A post regarding the incident went viral on Reddit, with a number of students sharing the story on social media.

The group also immediately notified the Region of Waterloo Public Health, requesting a health inspector to search the premises.

The health inspector searched the establishment the following day, however was unable to find any insect activity present.

The food safety inspection report read, “Examination of all sashimi on site found no evidence of insect contamination or activity … examination of other parts of the facility including basement, kitchen area, walk-in cooler and booth where party sat found no evidence of insect contamination.”

The health inspector also returned a second time to search the restaurant’s product, but was unable to find any insect activity.

Itamae’s previous health inspections have not scored overly well.

According to an inspection report recorded during November 2014, the restaurant had three critical health infractions, including the separation of raw foods from ready-to-eat foods during storage and handling (store raw foods separate and below cooked or ready-to-eat foods), the foods protected from potential contamination and adulteration (ensure high acid foods are stored in corrosion resistant containers) and the constant supply of potable hot and cold running water under pressure (provide hot and cold running water in food preparation and utensil washing area). All three infractions were corrected at the time of the inspection.

They also had five non-critical infractions including manual dishwashing (ensuring dishwashing includes three steps: wash, rinse and sanitize), proper use and storage of clean utensils (store utensils in manner preventing contamination) and washing hands thoroughly before and after handling food (ensure employees wash hands before resuming work), which were corrected during inspection.

Two infractions were not in compliance: sanitize test kit/thermometer readily available for verifying dishwashing and sanitizing temperatures (ensure a sanitizing test kit is provided and used to verify the concentration of the chemical agent) and equipment, non-food contact surfaces and linen are maintained, designed, constructed, installed and accessible for cleaning (ensure all surfaces are clean and maintained in good repair).

Since June 2013, Itamae has had 25 non-critical infractions and 13 critical.

“We are going to continue doing routine inspections and monitor the situation,” said Chris Komorowski, health protection and investigation manager at the Region of Waterloo Public Health. “They [Itamae] are fully cooperative at this point.”

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