You asked: Is it safe to eat airport sushi?

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Doctors, airports and a food writer weigh in on a traveler’s sushi suspicions.

Traveling has always come with complications. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the unexpected. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.

“Is it unsafe to eat airport sushi? What is a good way to know if the sushi is safe if at all?” — Nathan R., Silver Spring, Md.

I’ve been known to dabble in airport sushi when the mood strikes. But I have a high risk tolerance, so I reached out to doctors, airports and a food writer to get their take.

Ali A. Khan, a gastroenterologist with Gastro Health in Fairfax, Va., said eating sushi is a risky option, not just at the airport, but anywhere you eat it. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labels raw fish dishes including sushi and ceviche a “riskier choice,” along with other delicious foods like alfalfa sprouts, eggnog and unpasteurized cheese.

Khan said you may increase the chances of food poisoning at the airport where “there’s a lot more potential and room for error as far as storage and handling” goes, which is why he usually saves sushi for other occasions.

The food writer had a similar concern. For the critic’s perspective, I sent your question to my James Beard Award-winning colleague Tim Carman. Turns out, he does have some reservations about eating raw fish at the airport, opting for burgers, sandwiches or salads instead of sashimi.

“I just know how most restaurants operate in airports,” he told me in a chat. “They’re usually not run by the restaurants themselves, but by a third-party concessionaire. I don’t want to put myself in the hands of a third-party concessionaire when it comes to sushi.”

Airport representatives (predictably) disagree with such criticisms.

A spokesperson for Denver International — home to two restaurants that serve sushi — said their concessionaires are required to follow all state and local food handling regulations, and are governed by the same public health agencies as a restaurant outside of the airport.

“These agencies hold all concessionaires to the highest level of food safety and quality standards,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Jonathan O. Dean, a spokesperson for the Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport, pointed me to Gachi House of Sushi’s Yelp page, where travelers have given the airport sushi spot strong reviews.

It’s so popular, in fact, that “it’s a regular sight, pilots and airline flight crews exiting their aircraft and making a beeline for Gachi,” Dean told me by email. So popular, moreover, they’ve expanded to airports in Philadelphia and Boston.

Even with food safety standards, eating raw fish comes with risks. Cooking meat kills harmful microbes that may have contaminated seafood, said Dave Love, research professor at Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future — who’s studied fisheries and the food system issues related to the industry.

Mark Gendreau, a physician and the chief medical officer of Beverly and Addison Gilbert hospitals in Massachusetts, agreed. There are multiple organisms that can contaminate raw fish, and several can cause symptoms fairly quickly, as in: you could get hit with severe nausea and vomiting followed by diarrhea on your flight.

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There are a few ways you can reduce some risk for safer sushi eating, New Jersey-based dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade told me. Like using good judgment when you’re deciding where and what to eat. Ordering some at a well-known, reputable restaurant is a safer bet than a premade tray that may have been stored at an improper temperature for an extended time. If you are going for a to-go container, check out the fish. Is it bright and appetizing? Or is it discolored? Dried out? Unpleasantly aromatic?

Similarly, Neil Slabbert, regional chief medical officer, Asia-Pacific, for the travel risk management company World Travel Protection, said airport diners should ask a few questions before digging in: Can you tell how long the sushi has been sitting out? Is there a food safety rating prominently posted? If you can see the food prep area, does it look clean?

Love also said you should eat your sushi ASAP; don’t let it sit out for hours before your flight. “Just like any seafood, it needs to be consumed or refrigerated,” he said.

Unfortunately, such scrutiny isn’t perfect. Khan said it can be “basically impossible” to tell if sushi is contaminated or not.

“It may smell bad or have a fishy odor to it, and this may be an indicator that it’s not the freshest,” he said. “But just because it doesn’t smell bad doesn’t mean that it’s not contaminated.”

If you do happen to get sick, “healthy people tend to get better after a few days,” Khan said. You should drink plenty of fluids — water, sports drinks, broth — and try to stay hydrated. If your symptoms aren’t getting better, seek medical attention.

Should such risks put you off raw fish, you could go for vegetarian sushi or sushi made with cooked seafood instead; shrimp tempura rolls are Khan’s favorite.

Or, you can just accept the risks and pass the wasabi.

“That is life — everything is hazardous,” Khan said.

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