A Japanese conveyor-belt restaurant will use AI cameras to combat 'sushi terrorism'

The Kura Sushi chain aims to start using the food-tampering deterrent by early March.

Kim Kyung Hoon / reuters

A viral video trend in Japan has got sushi conveyor-belt restaurants racing to prevent food tampering. One chain, Kura Sushi, said it will use artificial intelligence to look for "suspicious opening and closing of sushi plate covers," Nikkei Asia reported this week.

Kura Sushi plans to start upgrading existing cameras, which are used to track the dishes customers take from conveyor belts to determine their bill, by early March. If the system detects suspicious behavior, it will alert employees.

"We want to deploy our AI-operated cameras to monitor if customers put the sushi they picked up with their hands back on the plates,” a spokesman told CNN. “We are confident we will be able to upgrade the systems we already have in place to deal with these kind of behaviors.”

Many folks in Japan have been outraged by a trend dubbed "sushi terrorism." Videos have shown people carrying out unhygienic acts, such as licking the spoon for a container of green tea powder. Other videos have shown patrons dumping wasabi onto sushi as it passes by on the conveyor belt.

Another video, which apparently has more than 98 million views on Twitter, showed a person licking the top of a soy sauce bottle and the rim of a teacup before putting them back at a branch of the Sushiro chain. They also licked a finger and touched a piece of passing sushi. The clip and the response to it caused the stock of Sushiro's parent company to drop almost five percent.

Sushiro said it replaced all the soy sauce bottles and cleaned every cup at the affected restaurant. Like other conveyor-belt sushi chains, it's enacted other policies like only making food to order to deter tampering and assure hygiene-conscious customers that restaurants are clean.

Kura Sushi has used AI in other ways. In 2020, it emerged that the company was using an app that can grade tuna. At least at the time, Kura Sushi was buying most of its tuna from outside of Japan. The app was said to help it evaluate the quality of the cuts without having to travel in the midst of a pandemic.

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