Is it Safe to Eat Seafood?

Squid sashimi prepared by experts in a reputable restaurant – something I can’t dream of making myself.

I’ve always been a huge fan of seafood with its flavor and health benefits.  Fish are vitamin-rich and contain fewer calories and saturated fat than red meat.  When I’m cooking soups or brothy dishes, seafood adds an umami flavour that brings a complex flavor profile to everything I make.  However, as concerns about pollution, contaminants, and sustainability grow, questions arise about the safety of consuming seafood.

For example, in August this year, Fukushima wastewaters were released into the Pacific Ocean, causing international alarm and concern.  Moreover, industrial waste and heavy metals continue to be a concern—especially in larger, peak food chain species.  Personally, many of my close acquaintances have quit eating certain fish altogether, such as tuna and herring.  I recently had the opportunity to try swordfish for the first time at a restaurant and was worried about the contaminants I would be consuming.  But how worried should consumers be and should we avoid seafood altogether?

Mercury is a heavy metal that is found in some fish species.  While levels of mercury are not generally harmful to most adults, pregnant women and young children should be concerned.  Particularly they should be advised to limit intake due to possible developmental risks for the child.

Varying seafood options including smaller fish, you’re more likely to have a lesser mercury load than some of the larger carnivorous fish.

Another concern with seafood is its susceptibility to bacterial contamination, leading to foodborne illnesses.  Like other raw meats, proper handling, storage, and cooking are critical to reducing these risks.  I recall my mother trying to create her own sashimi out of salmon fillets that were not sashimi-grade, and she ended up with extreme nausea and vomiting that required medical attention.

W2: Varying seafood options including smaller fish, you’re more likely to have a lesser mercury load than some of the larger carnivorous fish

What can we do?

  • Diversify seafood choices: even if you’re a huge fan of a single species of seafood such as squid, you may want to consider varying seafood intake to reduce exposure to specific contaminants and maximize nutritional benefits.
  • Known your sources: purchasing seafood from reputable suppliers helps reduce risks of consumption. For example, eating at a reputable sushi or sashimi restaurant will help reduce likelihood of food poisoning.  Sashimi-grade fish is also entirely different from the raw fish purchased at grocery foods or in the frozen aisle.  Cook seafood thoroughly unless eating raw fish prepared by experts.

Today, seafood remains an important part of my diet.  I rely on salmon and mackerel weekly to get my dose of Omega-3 and healthy fats.  While safety concerns exist, by adhering to these basic principles, staying informed, and making mindful choices, we can consume seafood without feeling guilty.

Certain seafood should be cooked fully to avoid bacterial infection.