“The US Food and Drug Administration issued an import alert today to detain farm-raised catfish, basa, shrimp, dace (related to carp), and eel from China until the shipments are proven to be free of residues from drugs that are not approved in the US for use in farm-raised aquatic animals.” This was part of an email I received today from a member of a discussion group for seafood professionals of which I am a member. I have commented before regarding some of the issues around importing food from china (e.g. the ‘Monkfish’ from China that was really potentially deadly puffer-fish) and it appears that the saga continues. More and more food from China is being deemed unsafe for consumption, which is rather topical as the Unites States imports about 21% of our seafood from China, and of that about $1.9 billion worth is farm raised fish, the subject of the latest FDA action. Many US states have outright banned the imports until they are able to test safely. Currently, much of this seafood is contaminated with salmonella, or contains pesticides, illegal antibiotics and other veterinary medicines, and the top reason was, interestingly, “filth” (I’m not sure if that is a legal term, but that’s a quote from the FDA). Shrimp accounted for approximately 50% of the rejected seafood.

So… What does this mean for sushi lovers? Well… It is fortunate that most sushi is from pelagic fish. And that means wild, not farm raised and not imported from China. Farm raised items on your sushi menu are generally the shrimp (ebi), eel (unagi, anago is a salt water eel), salmon (sake), and yellowtail (hamachi). Of these, the easiest to find ‘wild’ is salmon, but I say ‘easy’ with a caveat. While your fishmonger probably sells wild salmon, few sushi restaurants do, and if they do, they often charge a premium. Wild shrimp is also somewhat easy to find at your fishmongers, but again, not so easy at a restaurant. Good luck with the eel and yellowtail, which is nearly impossible to find as ‘wild’ served as sushi in North America. Fortunately for yellowtail lovers, yellowtail is raised in Japan in hatcheries and flown around the world frozen, as the yellowtail caught in US waters is generally too lean to be used for sushi.

That said, the FDA is not claiming that if you eat this contaminated it will kill you, but that long term consumption can cause health problems. While the FDA isn’t specifically mentioning what those problems may be, it’s not too hard to figure out what they are if we’re talking pesticides, salmonella, and ‘filth.’

Generally speaking, it seems that your sushi is safe. You might want to cut back a bit on the shrimp tempura and the unagi don, but shrimp does come from other countries too, and if you trust the FDA (although I’m not entirely sure if I do, but that’s another story) they will keep the bad stuff out of our food supply. Personally, I tend to stay away from farmed salmon anyway, it’s probably no better than the stuff they are trying to keep out of the country… I love eel, but will probably eat it sparingly, and I’ve always hated farm raised shrimp because it has a totally different taste and texture than the ‘wild’ shrimp (shrimp classic?). But other than that, I’m still going to indulge. I suggest we not let fear temper our taste buds and remain sensible about our sushi choices.


Additional details are available from:

· Questions and Answers on FDA’s Import Alert on Farm-Raised Seafood From China (a lot of good information for processors and consumers here) https://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~frf/seadwpe.html

· FDA New Release, “FDA Detains Imports of Farm-Raised Chinese Seafood, Products Have Repeatedly contained Potentially Harmful Residues” https://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2007/NEW01660.html

· Consumer Article on How FDA Regulates Seafood (this article also discusses how FDA protects consumers from unsafe seafood, mentions FDA regulatory and research programs, and the consumer’s role in seafood safety) https://www.fda.gov/consumer/updates/seafood062807.html

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