Fish & Seafood Safety
Fish and shellfish contain high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children's proper growth and development. So, women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits.
However, nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. For most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern. Yet, some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous system. The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish.
3 Safety Tips
By following these 3 recommendations for selecting and eating fish or shellfish, women and young children will receive the benefits of eating fish and shellfish and be confident that they have reduced their exposure to the harmful effects of mercury.
1. Do not eat
They contain high levels of mercury.
- King Mackerel
2. Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.
- Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
- Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.
3. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas.
If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week.
Follow these same recommendations when feeding fish and shellfish to your young child, but serve smaller portions.
FAQ's about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish
What is mercury and
Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through industrial pollution. Mercury falls from the air and can accumulate in streams and oceans and is turned into methylmercury in the water. It is this type of mercury that can be harmful to your unborn baby and young child. Fish absorb the methylmercury as they feed in these waters and so it builds up in them. It builds up more in some types of fish and shellfish than others, depending on what the fish eat, which is why the levels vary.
there methylmercury in all fish and shellfish?
Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of methylmercury. However, larger fish that have lived longer have the highest levels of methylmercury because they've had more time to accumulate it. These large fish (swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish) pose the greatest risk.
about fish sticks and fast food sandwiches?
Fish sticks and "fast-food" sandwiches are commonly made from fish that are low in mercury.
if I eat more than the recommended amount of
fish and shellfish in a week?
One week's consumption of fish does not change the level of methylmercury in the body much at all. If you eat a lot of fish one week, you can cut back for the next week or two. Just make sure you average the recommended amount per week.
Before you go fishing, check your Fishing Regulations Booklet for information about recreationally caught fish. You can also contact your local health department for information about local advisories. You need to check local advisories because some kinds of fish and shellfish caught in your local waters may have higher or much lower than average levels of mercury. This depends on the levels of mercury in the water in which the fish are caught. Those fish with much lower levels may be eaten more frequently and in larger amounts.
Oysters - a few facts...
Raw oysters contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus can be life threatening, even fatal when eaten by someone with liver disease, diabetes or a weakened immune system. However, there are myths that encourage people to eat raw oysters in spite of these dangers. Some of these myths, and the true facts behind them, include:
MYTH: Eating raw oysters are safe if you drown them in hot sauce, which kills everything.
Fact: The active ingredients in hot sauce have no more effect on harmful bacteria than plain water. Nothing but prolonged exposure to heat at a high enough temperature will kill bacteria.
MYTH: Avoid oysters from polluted waters and you'll be fine.
Fact: Vibrio vulnificus in oysters has nothing to do with pollution. Rather these bacteria thrive naturally in warm coastal areas (such as the Gulf of Mexico) where oysters live.
MYTH: An experienced oyster lover can tell a good oyster from a bad one.
Fact: Vibrio vulnificus can't be seen, smelled, or even tasted. Don't rely on your senses to determine if an oyster is safe.
MYTH: Alcohol kills harmful bacteria.
Fact: Alcohol may impair your good judgment, but it doesn't destroy harmful bacteria.
MYTH: Just a few oysters can't hurt you.
Fact: The seriousness of any case depends on many factors, including how much bacteria is ingested and the person's underlying health conditions.
MYTH: Avoid raw oysters in months without the letter "R" and you'll be safe.
Fact: While presence of Vibrio vulnificus bacteria is higher in warmer months, according to the Department of Health and Human Service's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a full 40 percent of cases occur during colder months from September through April.
MYTH: Raw oysters are an aphrodisiac and will cure a hangover.
There is no scientific evidence that
either of these commonly held beliefs is true.
A few words
about general safety regarding fish and seafood.
Fresh Fish and Shrimp
Only buy fish that is refrigerated or displayed on a thick bed of fresh ice that is not melting (preferably in a case or under some type of cover).
- Fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour, or ammonia-like.
- A fish’s eyes should be clear and bulge a little.
- Whole fish and fillets should have firm, shiny flesh and bright red gills free from milky slime.
- The flesh should spring back when pressed.
- Fish fillets should display no discoloration, darkening or drying around the edges.
- Shrimp flesh should be translucent and shiny with little or no odor.
- Some refrigerated seafood may have time/temperature indicators on their packaging, which show if the product has been stored at the proper temperature. Always check the indicators when they are present and only buy the seafood if the indicator shows that the product is safe to eat.
Follow these general guidelines for safely selecting shellfish:
Look for the label: Look for tags on sacks or containers of live shellfish (in the shell) and labels on containers or packages of shucked shellfish. These tags and labels contain specific information about the product, including the processor’s certification number. This means that the shellfish were harvested and processed in accordance with national shellfish safety controls.
Discard Cracked/Broken Ones: Throw away clams, oysters, and mussels if their shells are cracked or broken.
Do a “Tap Test”: Live clams, oysters, and mussels will close up when the shell is tapped. If they don’t close when tapped, do not select them.
Check for Leg Movement: Live crabs and lobsters should show some leg movement. They spoil rapidly after death, so only live crabs and lobsters should be selected and prepared.
Cleaning squid is not difficult, and small squid (around 1 ounce each) will take about 1 minute each - or about 18 minutes per pound.
start with fresh squid about 10 or 12 inches long
including the tentacles.
First cut off
the tentacles right in front of the eyes. If you
get it just right the beak will stay behind with
the eyes and the tentacles will still be together
in a star formation.
Next place the squid body in the palm of your hand and wrap your fingers around just tight enough to keep it from slipping away. Pull the head off and the innards will come along with it.
now be able to feel the end of the nearly
transparent "pen". Pull it straight out. If the
squid was handled roughly it may be broken in
which case fish out the pieces.
Now lay the squid body flat on your cutting board. With the fingers of one hand hold down the tip of the tail. With the other hand run the side of your thumb flat across the body from the tail to the head end, pushing out all the remaining jelly stuff.
skin and just rub it off under cold running water.
Do not cook the tentacles with the bodies if
you want bright white bodies, the skin pigment
bleeds and will stain the white bodies an
unappetizing color. You can cook them in the same
water after the bodies have been removed. Now
cut however you desire.
really, really fresh, you don't even have to cook
it, treat like sushi.
If wet cooking you should have the water at a rolling boil and drop in a small amount of squid so the water stays hot. Pull and cool in between 10 seconds and 20 seconds depending on thickness of the squid. A minute will get you tough squid.
If you are going the simmering route, check your squid often for taste and texture. You want to pull it as soon as it becomes tender enough but still has some bite. Overcooked squid loses both flavor and texture. The time will be about 45 minutes in most cases.When frying, squid may be lightly battered or not battered at all. For un-battered squid get your oil plenty hot and stir fry for 10 or 15 seconds. For battered squid deep fry a small amount at a time in very hot oil (395°F) and for the minimum time needed to color the batter. MORE INFORMATION ON OIL...