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Is Gulf Seafood Safe?
Written by August 13, 2010

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Is Gulf Seafood Safe?

Dietary guidelines increasingly stress the importance of seafood in Americans' diets. The American Heart Association recommends that fish, especially oily fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, be consumed at least twice a week (2 servings, about 4 ounces each) to reduce death from coronary artery disease. Likewise the Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 states that 250 mg per day of omega-3 fatty acids from marine sources (2 servings, about 4 ounces each) positively impacts health.

But what about the safety of seafood? The biggest concern that has circulated has been around methyl mercury. Large predatory fish like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish have the potential for the highest level of mercury contamination and thus should be avoided by certain people like children and pregnant women. Instead, these groups are encouraged to eat up to 12 ounces per week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury like canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. For more on the risks of methyl mercury and levels in fish go to the Food and Drug Administration's web site. Overall, however, for the majority of Americans the benefits of fish consumption far outweigh the potential risks when amounts of fish are eaten within the recommendations.

More recently, however, I've been asked if seafood caught along the Gulf of Mexico is safe to eat (given the April 2010 oil spill). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have released these statements that lead me to believe that we do not have to be concerned with seafood from the Gulf.

  • Federal and state officials are closely monitoring the waters from which seafood is harvested and have closed areas contaminated by the oil and dispersants (chemicals that cause the oil to disperse into the water rather than float on top) used for fishing and seafood harvesting. They will reopen waters when they pass thorough sensory testing for contaminants.
  • FDA has implemented a surveillance sampling program of seafood products at Gulf Coast area primary processing plants. It is currently targeting oysters, crabs and shrimp, which could retain contaminants longer than finfish. This sampling will provide verification that seafood being harvested is safe to eat.
  • Fish and shellfish harvested from areas unaffected by the closures are considered safe to eat.

What do you think? Do you feel adequately protected by the FDA and NOAA? Do you eat and recommend that others eat adequate amounts of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids? Here's a list of various seafoods and their grams of omega-3's per 3-ounce serving.

Lichtenstein, A.H. (2006). Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association nutrition committee. Circulation, 114, 82-96.

Report of the dgac on the dietary guidelines for Americans, 2010. (2010, June 15). Retrieved from http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-DGACReport.htm.

Food and drug administration: gulf of mexico update. (2010, August 11). Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/food/ucm210970.htm.

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