Fires at two Wisconsin restaurants caused by… sushi crunchies?

Illustration for article titled Fires at two Wisconsin restaurants caused by… sushi crunchies?
Photo: piyato (iStock)

Two Madison, Wisconsin sushi restaurants collectively sustained about $575,000 worth of damage resulting from two fires in April and May. The Madison Fire Department investigated the blazes, which struck Sumo Steakhouse and Sushi Bar. Their conclusion? Sushi crunchies—those delicious crumbly tempura bits atop some sushi rolls—spontaneously combusted and set the restaurants aflame. Truly.

Advertisement

The Wisconsin State Journal reports the fire department issued a warning yesterday alerting restaurants to the potential for sushi crunchies to “spontaneously catch fire when not stored properly.” Investigators found five incidents of fires caused by sushi crunchies nationally.

“The fires were caused by a food preparation technique where oil used to make a tempura-like crunch self-heats and spontaneously combusts,” fire department spokeswoman Cynthia Schuster told the Journal.

Advertisement

While the incident may seem odd, spontaneous combustion—especially of dry material, potentially near fuel and hot surfaces—is a real phenomenon. Basically, a material begins to heat, whether through oxidation or bacterial fermentation, and ignites when the heat is unable to escape. Materials with high oil contents—including pistachio nuts, oddly enough—are especially prone to combustion.

So please, if you make our recipe for tempura crunchies, heed the Madison Fire Department’s advice and spread them on a baking sheet to cool completely and don’t store them in a container where heat can build.

Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

hendenburg3
Cayde-6's Unloaded Dice

You know, when I heard “tempura crunchies cause fires,” here I was thinking that it was oil splashing out of the pot and catching fire from the burner.

I’m gonna just call shenanigans right now on this...

See, the flash point (ie, the minimum temperature at which a substance can vaporize and catch fire with the help of an open flame or ignition source) of all food oils are above 580F.
The fire point (the lowest temperature at which the vapor of that fuel will continue to burn for at least 5 seconds after ignition by an open flame) of all food oils are above 620F.

Now granted, I haven’t worked in a restaurant kitchen, but something tells me those tempura crunchies were not stored in a container that can withstand being heated past 580F.

Also, 580F is WAY past the smoke point of any oil on the market.

The fires were caused by a food preparation technique where oil used to make a tempura-like crunch self-heats and spontaneously combusts

“Self-heats”? Really? Unlike in the pistachio example, any enzymes in tempura crunchies would be permanently denatured by being deep-fried. There’s a little thing called “conservation of energy,” and it doesn’t take a holiday.  

And seriously. The auto-ignition temperature of vegetable oil is 795 F.