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Seaside Saturdays: Seafood Safety

It’s Saturday again and you know what that means – our Seaside series continues with a bit of information from the fishy side of things.  This topic concerns us all because whether or not you’re a diehard seafood lover, it’s important to know the truth about what gets onto the dinner table and into your favorite restaurants!

Over the last several decades, seafood safety has been called into question throughout ugly controversies that have tainted some of the best edibles that nature has to offer.  Fish can no longer be mentioned without conjuring mental images and sound bytes of mercury poisoning and FDA warnings.  Despite the debates, it is now commonly accepted that pregnant women should avoid these types of fish entirely, just based on how much heavy metal contamination accumulates at the top of the food web. As consumers are becoming more aware of these problems, sellers have had to show greater accountability for how and where their fish are caught and processed (Trader Joe’s being the most famous for suffering bad press in 2009).  So, what can we eat and where can we buy it?

As always, the simple answer is that it depends.  For salmon, wild caught is the best, with aquaculture farms receiving high doses of pollution in near-shore waters, among other recent concerns such as the salmon anemia virus.  According to the EPA, consumers should be mindful about their consumption of shellfish as well: as living biofilters, these bivalves are the first ones to see the pollution!  Additionally, lingering seafood concerns surround products caught in the Gulf of Mexico after the oil spill, but NOAA and the EPA insist that we should grab a fork, because we’d all have to consume over 80 pounds of seafood per day for a few years before approaching levels of concern!

And of course, when it comes to seafood, quality concerns must be paired with environmental woes about damaging fishing practices.  While Trader Joe’s is an example of a company that prides itself on providing organic, high-quality products, that is a tall order for seafood.  What is “high-quality” and how do we measure it?  The Greenpeace studyCarting Away the Ocean, relied largely on a company’s response to their surveys, and when no response was recorded, that was an automatic failing score.  While transparency is important in any business, everyone deserves a chance to get on the sustainability bandwagon.  After the controversy, Trader Joe’s has joined other companies such as Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, and Walmart in their efforts to green their supply chain.

No company, certification, or consumer can make perfect policies or choices.  So, what can you do?  Ask questions.  Ask your lifeguards, ask seafood providers, ask workers at the grocery store, and even better – check out DC’s local seafood market to get your dose of healthy omega-3s from the nearest catch of the day!

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