Any knowledge about specifs, re. contaminated fish
May 6, 2008 9:13 PM   Subscribe

Given the recent reports about seafood from China that is both bacterio- or viral-contaminated and chemically contaminated, does anyone have info about exactly which fish/shellfish to stay completely away from, especially in restaurants?
posted by yazi to Food & Drink (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As a former seafood wholesaler, I can assure that it depends entirely upon the restaurant that you eat in, and the wholesaler that they deal with. You can be sure that good fish is not cheap, that the wait staff and management may lie to you about the origin of the fish, and the wait staff and management may have been lied to by their fish dealer. So I would avoid cheap fish, and especially avoid cheap sushi.

The reality is that there is no such list or warning for you, other than subscribing to a "seafood safety" news feed. You will need to use your own common sense, and always, always ask for origin. Regardless of the answers that you get and whether you can trust the answer, you are putting pressure down the chain of provision and if answers are demanded answers will be had.

To allay some of your fears about contamination, a sample of batches of imported seafood are inspected for problems ranging from parasites to chemical contamination, generally by independent labs that are licensed(?) or otherwise known to the FDA and whose results are acceptable to the US customs for allowing import. The percentage of product inspected depends on the type of fish and the expected rate of contamination/parasite. Every fish is different.

That said, there are no hard and fast rules for items to avoid. If the items did not meet some minimum criteria for sale in the US, then you wouldn't see them for sale here for very long. It really isn't so much different for chicken or beef. You get what you pay for, and safe clean protein is expensive.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:53 PM on May 6, 2008

You might find this interview with the author of Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood tangentially useful. It's on Salon, so you'll have to go through the site pass malarkey.
I don't want to condemn all shrimp out of hand. I've seen fish farming in these things called closed-container tanks, which aren't in the ocean. There are attempts to raise organically farmed shrimp on land. There is cold-water shrimping, which is controlled off the coast of Great Britain and eastern Canada and even off the coast of British Columbia. That's fantastic. But you can't go to Red Lobster or your local chain restaurant and expect to be getting that stuff. If you get cheap shrimp now, it's from a turbid, pesticide-infested pond somewhere in the developing world, and it's guaranteed you're contributing to the misery of all humans by buying that stuff.
posted by zamboni at 10:21 PM on May 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, more geared towards sustainability, although there is information in there about health, is the website Sea Choice.
posted by chromatist at 7:13 AM on May 7, 2008

Thanks to you three. It helped.
I'm esp. going to start looking for canned tuna that is "skipjack". Where can a lad buy it in Seattle? As for restaurants: I already refuse to eat at fast or cheap places. I trust a few. Wash. state I believe requires that sushi fish all be pre-frozen to killy germs.

Also: any comment on my impression that much of the fast-food chains "fish filet" fish is not bad at all... or at least it used to be quite good. (Aware that the bread and fry oil, etc. are not wonderful.) I'd like expert update on this.
posted by yazi at 8:59 PM on May 7, 2008

The FDA recommends that all sushi fish be frozen before consumption to destroy parasites, and I have no info on Washington state. You can ask your local sushi chef whether or not they do this.

For the fast food fish, most of it is Alaska pollock which has been filleted and flash frozen at sea. A certain percentage of each lot is thawed and inspected for parasites, contamination and decomposition. If the sample of the lot is below the threshold (for example, parasites per pound) that are specified in the company's guidelines, the lot passes further down the production chain. There may be further inspections, but I don't have any details. It is generally the same sort of inspection process for chicken and beef production, only the hazards and contaminants are different. And you can see from the recent hamburger recalls that the system is not 100% effective.

From a wholesomeness or sustainability standpoint, I would avoid eating fast food fish. But for cleanliness/contamination, it is no worse than anything else.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:26 AM on May 8, 2008

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