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Seafood Q & A

Q:
What is surimi?

Originating in Japan several centuries ago, surimi is a uniquely functional food ingredient made of fish proteins and used in surimi seafood products. Surimi consists of fish proteins that are refined through heading, gutting and mincing the fish, then washing, removing water, and freezing the remaining protein. Good quality surimi is odorless and has a creamy white appearance. Surimi has excellent gelling properties so that it can be formed into various shapes. The US is the leading country for the production of surimi. Alaska pollock is most often used followed by Pacific whiting in the manufacture of surimi.

Surimi seafood consists of unique seafood ingredients with flavor similar to that of naturally occurring crab, shrimp, lobster and other shellfish with added convenience, safety and versatility. Surimi seafood is formed by mixing various food ingredients and formed into various shapes before cooking and setting the gel structure of the final product. In manufacturing crab-flavored seafood made with surimi, shellfish flavors are added to give the food its recognizable character. Surimi seafood is vacuum-packed and pasteurized to destroy harmful bacteria (pathogens). Most retail products are both fat-free and low in cholesterol. They are often nutritionally enhanced with the inclusion of omega-3 oil. The development of crabstick in Japan in 1974-1975 was a cornerstone for the globalization of surimi seafood. The United States started to manufacture crabstick in 1981 and has its current market near 200 million pounds.

Visit: Seafood Choices • Overview

Q:
How do I know that the producers of farm-raised fish have complied with the regulatory requirements regarding antibiotics?

The use of antibiotics in the United States is strictly controlled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Center for Veterinary Medicine. The FDA also implements the seafood safety regulation. In addition to oversight over the safety of all seafood, this regulation also requires that all United States processors/distributors ensure that aquacultured finfish products conform to all requirements concerning antibiotics/drugs use.

All seafood imports must conform to the United States seafood safety regulations. While oversees producers must fully comply with United States mandates for safety, the FDA cannot inspect and test all imported products. The United States importers are required by the law to make sure that farm-raised seafood products coming into this country comply with all safety requirements – including those pertaining to antibiotics. With the new Food Safety Modernization Act, 2010, the FDA should have more resources to inspect imported products. In addition, there are other voluntary standardization programs that may help certify imported aquacultured products.

Visit: Seafood Choices • Oversight

Q:
Do fish have worms (parasites)?

All living organisms, including fish can have worms which are considered parasites because they feed off of their hosts. Because their presence occurs naturally, the worms are not considered contaminants. Worms are as common in fish as insects are in fruits and vegetables. Worms are not a concern in thoroughly cooked or commercially frozen fish.

When cooking fish, it should be cooked to heat all parts of the product to 145ºF or above for 15 seconds.

Worms become a concern when consumers eat raw or lightly preserved fish such as sashimi, sushi, ceviche, and gravlax. When preparing these products, use commercially frozen fish. Alternatively, freeze the fish to an internal temperature of -4°F for at least 7 days to kill any parasites that may be present. Home freezers may not be cold enough to kill the parasites.

The health risk from parasites is far less than the risk from "unseen" illness causing bacteria which are present on almost all foods.

Visit: Seafood Safety • Patients • Parasites

Q:
I love calamari, but I heard that it's high in cholesterol. How do shellfish compare in cholesterol content?

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting dietary cholesterol to 300 milligrams per day. Most types of seafood are low in cholesterol and all types have less in a 4-ounce serving than the current recommended daily intake from food. The following three groups describe the cholesterol content of most types of seafood consumed in the United States.

  • Most types of fish commonly consumed in the U.S. including tuna, flatfish, cod, catfish, halibut, trout, and pangasius (basa or swai) have less than one fifth of the suggested daily cholesterol intake.
  • Common types of fish such as salmon, pollock and tilapia and shellfish including clams, oysters, mussels, scallops, crabs and lobster have a slightly higher amount of cholesterol, but still less than one third of the recommended daily limit.
  • Two seafood products have higher cholesterol levels. Shrimp contains between 50 and 60 percent of the recommended daily intake, and squid (calamari) contains about 75 percent of the recommended daily intake.

People who are trying to limit their cholesterol intake and meet current dietary guidelines can easily eat two meals per week of a variety of different seafood products. When selecting shrimp and squid (calamari), keep in mind that a significant portion of your suggested daily cholesterol intake will come from this meal.

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Q:
What are omega-3s?

Fish and shellfish contain unique types of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) called omega-3 fatty acids or omega-3s. The omega-3s found in seafood are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These omega-3s are essential for healthy human development and must be consumed through the diet. It is well documented through scientific studies that these marine-derived omega-3s can help reduce the risk of heart disease and contribute to the brain and vision development of infants. EPA and DHA can be found in all seafood and other marine products such as algae, although fatty or oily fish will have higher amounts. Other types of omega-3s, such as the plant-derived alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) can be used to form EPA and DHA in the body, but conversion rates can be as low at 10%.

Health organizations, scientific organizations, and government authorities around the world recognize the importance of consuming marine derived omega-3 fatty acids for heart health and development in infants and children. Recommendations are to consume an average of 250 mg per day of EPA and DHA, and the American Heart Association recommends 1000 mg per day for people with cardiovascular disease. The 2010Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that the general population consume 8 or more ounces of seafood per week to reach this average level of EPA and DHA in the diet.

Visit: Seafood Nutrition • Patients • Health Benefits

Q:
Are saltwater fish higher in omega-3 fatty acids than freshwater fish?

All seafood, fresh and saltwater, contains omega-3 fatty acids unique to seafood (see “What are Omega-3s”). Although omega-3 fatty acids are usually associated with marine species such as salmon or herring, freshwater species, usually from cold northern waters, can also have higher levels of EPA and DHA. In a 4-ounce cooked portion of trout there are approximately 1,058 milligrams (mg) of EPA and DHA. Other more popular freshwater fish species do have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids ranging from 101 mg per 4-ounce portion in channel catfish to 153 mg per 4-ounce cooked portion in tilapia. The EPA and DHA content in 4-ounce portions of popular saltwater fish range from greater than 1,800 mg in Atlantic and King salmon, 977 mg in canned albacore (white) tuna, and 181 mg in cod.

Health organizations worldwide recommend an average intake of 250 mg per day of EPA and DHA to maximize health benefits, and the American Heart Association recommends 1000 mg per day EPA and DHA for people with cardiovascular disease. Overall, saltwater species contain higher levels of these heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and it’s always important to include a variety of seafood in the diet for the most nutritional benefits.

Visit: Seafood Nutrition • Patients • Omega 3 Levels

Q:
Is imported seafood safe?

Yes, all imported seafood is subject to the same regulations and safety measures used for seafood produced in the United States. All imported seafood products are subject to monitoring by both federal and state authorities, plus proper handling and care after arrival. Monitoring programs have detected certain potential problems and rejected products from entering markets in the United States. The recent (Dec 2010) ‘Food Safety Modernization Act’ includes additional federal and state based programs to advance safety measures for all imported foods.

The majority of seafood consumed in the United States is imported. These imports are necessary to help meet the increasing demands. The growing amount of seafood imports is attracting increasing regulatory attention. This is why there is occasional publicity about efforts to detect and prevent problems. The source of the seafood should be available upon purchase.

Visit: Seafood Choices • Oversight

Q:
Which fish are sustainable, protected or managed (not overfished or threatened)?

All federally-managed fisheries in the United States are required to be managed for sustainability under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the law of the land for U.S. fisheries. Most state-managed fisheries are also required to be managed for sustainability. U.S. law also directs when fisheries are to be protected due to certain levels of depletion. All federally-managed fisheries are required to be managed in a way where a certain amount of the population is left “untouched” before fishing is allowed to take place. Stock assessments are conducted on a major portion of U.S. fisheries on an annual basis to determine the status of fish stock populations. These stock assessments are used by fisheries managers to determine if populations are depleted and if specific management measures are required to “protect” the species as it rebuilds to a larger population. Federal law also dictates when a fish stock is “threatened” based on stock assessments and certain steps are then taken to protect the stock. Any seafood choice which was lawfully caught and processed in the United States is managed to meet sustainability requirements. Consult the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fish Watch for more information about individual fish stock status.

Visit: Seafood Choices • Fisheries

Q:
How much seafood should I eat?

Current recommendations for the general population from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are to eat 8 or more ounces of a variety of seafood each week. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times per week. The Dietary Guidelines, which are issued every 5 years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also recommend that everyone increase the amount and variety of seafood consumed by choosing seafood in place of some meat and poultry. It is a good idea to choose from a variety of the different types of fish and shellfish available in U.S. markets when selecting your two seafood meals each week. All seafood contains heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and herring are particularly rich in omega-3s.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans also recommend pregnant women or women who will become pregnant or are nursing should consume at least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces of seafood per week, and limit the amount of albacore (white) tuna to 6 ounces per week and not to eat tilefish, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel because of mercury concerns.

Visit: Seafood Nutrition • Patients • Diet

Q:
Are seafood advisory cards a good source of information for species?

There are a number of advisory cards available from a variety of sources to assist consumers with their seafood purchasing choices. The cards generally reflect an organization’s policy stance or specific agenda with regards to fishing practices or other marine issues and thus the cards may contradict each other depending on the source. This can lead to consumer confusion. Additionally, criteria used to “score” seafood choices by an organization is not standardized or based on any federal fisheries management requirements but rather is reflective of the organizations’ policy stance. Most U.S. fisheries are managed for sustainability under U.S. federal or state law, which includes a requirement that no overfishing be allowed. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fish Watch provides consumers with balanced fishery information that includes whether or not a fishery is considered overfished based on scientific stock assessments. If you choose to utilize seafood advisory cards from non-governmental organizations you are encouraged to do additional homework on your own or consult Fishwatch to ensure that you are receiving the most complete, accurate, and up to date information regarding your seafood choice.

Visit: Seafood Choices • Fisheries

Q:
Where did the seafood come from?

All seafood sold in the United States is required to have a country of origin label. The majority of seafood consumed in the United States is imported. There is also a significant portion that is shipped from regions around the nation. Often local selections are preferred but the growing demand for seafood requires multiple sources to meet buyer expectations. The location of seafood harvest or production should be available at the point of purchase, and can be categorized as the following:Local – neighboring waters or farms (aquaculture)
Domestic – location within the United States; coast, lake, river, farm; or city, county, and/or state
Imported – foreign country or location within a foreign country

Additional evidence (labels, pictures, maps) for the location of harvest and comments about the location and products may also be available. 

Visit: Seafood Choices • Oversight

Q:
Does seafood have hormones, antibiotics, or drugs?

Wild-caught seafood has no hormones, antibiotics or drugs. This question usually arises concerning aquacultured or farm-raised seafood products. Unlike beef products, hormones are not used during fish farming. There is, however, a short list of antibiotics that have been approved for use in the United States, by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for aquacultured finfish (e.g. salmon and catfish). Aquacultured shellfish (e.g. oysters) do not have any antibiotics approved for use.

Antibiotics are used for farm-raised finfish for the same reasons that they might be used for beef. These are issues related to infection or illness of the fish. Just like meat or poultry, producers of aquacultured fish must stop administering antibiotics 30-180 days, depending on the antibiotic, prior to sale. This is to assure the antibiotics have been completely expelled by the fish or are far below the level that the FDA have determined to be safe for human consumption.

Visit: Seafood Safety • Patients

Q:
Is it wild or farm raised?

All seafood (fish and shellfish) sold in the United States is required to be labeled with the type of production (wild or farm-raised). Seafood consumption in the United States has reached over 50% farmed sources and the growing demand for healthful seafood requires more farmed production. Increasing sources will introduce new choices from new locations, creating the ability to have diversity in the selection of healthful choices with different flavors, forms and costs. Fortunately, wild and farmed seafood are subject to the same regulatory measures for product safety regardless of the source (see‘How do I know that the producers of farm-raised fish have complied with the regulatory requirements?

Visit: Seafood Choices • Industry Overview

Q:
How can I be sure the fish is not contaminated?

There are two kinds of potential contamination in fish: chemical and bacterial. Issues associated with chemical contamination, like PCB’s and mercury, are answered by other questions (e.g. Does my fish contain PCB’s?; Does all seafood have mercury?). For bacterial contamination issues, a retailer will keep fish and shellfish cold to help control bacterial growth for quality and safety reasons. They will also keep cooked seafood away from raw seafood to avoid cross-contamination. A consumer should handle seafood in the same way. The consumer has control over bacterial growth in fish after its purchase and when it arrives at home.

Like all raw beef, poultry and pork products, all fresh/frozen, raw seafood contains bacteria – most will spoil the fish but others might get you sick. However, if the seafood is properly handled after purchase and at home (kept cold or frozen until cooked), and cooked properly, any disease-causing bacteria will be killed. It is always best to cook seafood thoroughly to minimize the risk of bacterial foodborne illness and avoid cross-contamination between any raw seafood and already cooked or ready-to-eat (e.g. salads, fruit, smoked products) foods. If you choose to eat raw or undercooked seafood, choose high quality seafood from a reputable dealer. Remember there is risk associated with consuming undercooked seafood so young children, females who are pregnant or nursing and immuno-compromised individuals and older adults should avoid eating it.

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Q:
What can I do if I suspect I did not get the fish I ordered?

Buying or ordering one type (specie) of fish or shellfish and not getting what you ordered is disappointing and also fraud - it is against the law. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and state departments of health all consider it – species substitution -- a type of fraud. Some states like Florida take this very seriously and consumers can file a complaint directly online. Fraud is not always intentional. It can occur because of misunderstanding or lack of information, or it can be an honest mistake by a grocery store or restaurant if they bought a misrepresented product. Ignorance of the mislabeling does not excuse the violation, however, and the FDA holds the seller responsible.

What can you do? Become an informed consumer - know your seafood – learn what the fish looks like. Many species have distinguishing marks or specific origins, and an informed consumer can watch for the marks or ask the fish market manager where the fish comes from. Consumers can also check one of many well-illustrated seafood cookbooks. These have information on what species look like, and how to tell the difference between substitutes and the real thing. Usually there's also information about the texture and taste of a species. If a product isn't as expected after it's cooked, consumers can discuss the problem with the fish market manager or restaurant staff where the product was purchased.

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Q:
Does my fish contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)?

The greatest risk of exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) is from recreationally caught fish from contaminated waters. Always check for any advisories at your local or state health department or U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) (http://epa.gov/waterscience/fish/states.htm) prior to eating recreationally caught fish or shellfish. Removing the skin and trimming the fat from fish can lower the PCB exposure levels by as much as 40%.

PCBs are man-made pollutants that were introduced into the environment from various commercial and industrial applications. These compounds were banned in the United States in the 1970s but continue to be present in the environment. Although the environmental levels are decreasing, their presence is still a concern because they can have negative effects on the developing fetus and may increase the risk of certain cancers. Exposure to PCBs is mainly through the diet. PCBs can concentrate in animal fats found in meats, seafood, and dairy products. PCB concern in seafood is generally for fresh waters, estuaries, and near-shore coastal waters rather than the open ocean. Most commercial seafood is well below the tolerance level of 2.0 parts per million (ppm) set by the U.S. FDA, with numerous studies reporting levels of PCBs in a variety of fish and shellfish ranging from 0.0005 to 0.100 ppm.

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Q:
If I am allergic to shrimp, will I be allergic to all seafood?

Seafood is one of the top 8 food groups or Major Food Allergens as defined by Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA). Under FALCPA, food labels are required to state clearly whether the food contains a major food allergen.

If you are allergic to shrimp there is a chance that you may also be allergic to other seafood and their products. You should work with your physician to determine what specific seafoods are allergic to.

There are some food safety considerations that consumers should be aware of before they select the types of seafood products they intend to eat. For example, individuals need to be aware of any allergies that they might have to specific types of fish, shellfish (clams, oysters) or crustaceans (shrimp, lobsters, crab). Finfish and crustaceans are two of the eight key allergens that account for 90% of allergic responses from food. Since proper cooking and handling will not remove the allergenic properties of the food, it is necessary for consumers to avoid the food of concern.

Visit: the FDA web site

Q:
Why do shrimp (and some crabs) turn pink/red when they're cooked?

The pink or red color associated with cooked shrimp and some crabs is caused by the same compounds responsible for the pink/red color in salmon and the orange color in carrots. Shrimp and some crabs contain astaxanthin, which is classified as a carotene (a subclass of carotenoids), and are the pigments responsible for the red, orange, and yellow colors found in foods and nature. Prior to cooking, the astaxanthin compounds are covered in a protein shell, causing the shrimp or crabs to appear a darker or grey color. Once these proteins are exposed to heat they break down and release the astaxanthin compounds resulting in the pink/red color common in cooked shrimp and some crabs. For further information, read “Does the salmon have color additives?”

Visit: Seafood Choices • Shrimp

Q:
Is raw seafood, like oysters and sushi safe to eat?

Most consumers can safely eat raw shellfish harvested from approved waters or sushi from a reputable source. Some special populations, including young children, elderly adults, pregnant women and any person with a compromised immune system due to other health conditions should only eat thoroughly cooked seafood. Compromised immune systems can be associated with liver diseases, alcoholism, chemotherapy, steroid use, AIDS, diabetes and/or routine use of antacids. For shellfish available on the market, national and state regulations require information on approved sources and harvest locations marked on all product tags or labels. The intent is to assure the shellfish do not contain any potential substances or bacteria that could cause a potential illness. Most states require consumer advisory statements posted in markets or listed on menus if they are serving raw products. Wording in the required health advisories is for consumption of any raw animal products like meat, poultry, oysters, and eggs which may contain potentially harmful viruses or bacteria. Cooking seafood to 145°F for 15 seconds will destroy harmful viruses and bacteria. 

Visit: Seafood Safety • Patients • Raw Molluscan

Q:
What's the difference between farm-raised salmon and salmon caught in the wild?

Generally only very discerning people can tell the difference in taste between farm-raised and wild-caught salmon. However, there are some differences between farm-raised and wild-caught salmon that consumers may want to consider prior to purchasing products. The main difference between farm-raised and wild-caught salmon is the species. Most farm-raised salmon are Atlantic salmon and this type of product is farmed and available year-round. Wild-caught salmon are generally one of five types of Pacific salmon (Chinook, chum, coho, pink and sockeye). The season for wild-caught salmon is generally May through September and fresh wild-caught varieties are available during that time frame. During the late fall and winter months, wild-caught salmon are generally available in frozen form. Wild-caught salmon is generally more expensive than farm-raised alternatives. Additionally, nutritional content can vary slightly as influenced by their food supply. This is because nutrients in wild products reflect their seasonal diet in the harvest waters, while farmed products reflect the feeds that can be controlled during growth. Farm-raised and wild-caught salmon are healthy menu choices that are both low in fat and high in protein.

Visit: Seafood Choices • Industry Overview

Q:
Does all seafood have mercury?

Although all fish have trace amounts of mercury, levels vary widely and most fish have very low amounts. Mercury is a natural element that is found in small quantities in air, water and all living things. There has been an increased concern about mercury in seafood over the last decade because mercury is toxic in large quantities. This has caused unwarranted alarm about all seafood and general confusion about what is safe to eat or not.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established guidelines for allowable levels of mercury content in fish and seafood products which is 1.0 parts per million (ppm). Studies have shown that the highest levels of mercury are found in large predatory fish such as sharks, some billfish and large tunas, e.g. bluefin tuna. Smaller tunas such as skipjack, which is used for canned light tuna, have much less (average: 0.12 ppm). The good news is that the most popular species consumed in the United States have been shown to have low mercury levels. Salmon is very low in mercury (<0.1 ppm) as well as sardines, flounder, cod, shrimp, oysters and other species.

Visit: Seafood Safety • Patients • Mercury

Q:
Should women who are pregnant or young children be concerned about mercury in seafood?

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans has established guidelines for seafood consumption for children and women who are or may become pregnant or who are breastfeedingThe guidelines are as follows:

  • Eat at least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces of a variety of lower-mercury seafood per week
  • Can eat all types of tuna, including albacore (white) and light canned tuna, but should limit white tuna to 6 ounces per week.
  • Avoid large predatory fish, such as shark, swordfish, tilefish, or king mackerel which can be higher in mercury
  • Should not eat raw or partially cooked seafood, including smoked or cold smoked products.

The guidelines also recommend that obstetricians and pediatricians should provide guidance to women who are pregnant or breastfeeding to help them make healthy food choices that include seafood. Some of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. Scientific research has shown that seafood consumption reduces coronary heart disease and helps cognitive development and visual acuity in children.

Visit: Seafood Safety • Patients • Mercury

Q:
Does the salmon have color additives?

Wild salmon get their pink or reddish flesh color through their diet of krill, plankton, and other small organisms. These organisms contain astaxanthin, which is a natural antioxidant in the same family as the beta-carotene found in carrots. Astaxanthin and beta-carotene are classified as carotenes, which are a subclass of carotenoids, and are the pigments responsible for the red, orange, and yellow colors found in foods and nature. Similarly to wild-caught salmon, farm-raised salmon are provided color through their diets by ingesting these same carotenes, primarily astaxanthin and a similar compound canthaxanthin. These compounds, which are added to salmon feed, are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as color additives in food. Currently, most of the astaxanthin and canthaxanthin used in salmon feed is synthetic, although research is being done to improve the process of natural synthesis using microorganisms.

Salmon and trout have the unique ability to retain carotenes in their flesh. A white flesh fish species, such as catfish, does not have this ability and it is not necessary to include these compounds in the diet of farm-raised catfish. In order for farm-raised salmon and trout to be acceptable to consumers, their color must be similar to the wild-caught fish consumers are familiar with. Recently, it is required to label farm-raised salmon as ‘color added’ because of the addition of carotenes in their feed, seafood companies do not add dyes directly to the flesh of the fish.

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