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Top Ten Questions

What Inquiring Consumers Want To Know About Seafood

1. Is seafood really safe?
2. I enjoy shellfish but have high cholesterol. Do I have to give up shrimp and lobster?
3. How can I tell if the fish I buy is fresh?
4. How much seafood should I purchase per serving?
5. Can I get the same Omega-3 fatty acid benefits from fish oil pills as from eating fish?
6. There are so many varieties of seafood, is there a difference in the way each should be cooked?
7. How can I tell when seafood is done? Mine always turns out dry.
8. How can I keep my house from smelling "fishy" when I cook fish?
9. I hear eating seafood is healthy. Just what are the nutritional benefits?
10. Is seafood inspected for safety and graded for quality like meat?


1. Is seafood really safe?

When handled following guidelines set for all perishable foods, seafood is as safe as or safer to eat than any other protein source. Seafood has a strong safety record - latest assessments suggest that fishery products are implicated in less than one percent of all foodbourne illnesses in the United States. For healthy individuals, the nutritional benefits of seafood far outweigh safety concerns. People with compromised immune systems, such as those with liver disease, can also benefit from eating seafood but need to take extra precautions to thoroughly cook all fish and shellfish.

Source:

Dr. Robert J. Price, Seafood Safety, UCCE Sea Grant Extension Program Publication, 1990
News about Seafood Safety and Inspection, National Fisheries Institute

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2. I enjoy shellfish but have high cholesterol. Do I have to give up shrimp and lobster?

  • In the past, shellfish were excluded from low cholesterol diets because they were believed to be high in cholesterol. New sophisticated measuring techniques have indicated that cholesterol levels of many molluscan shellfish are much lower than was previously thought. In fact, bivalve mollusks such as clams, oysters, scallops and mussels were found to have a high percentage of non-cholesterol sterols present that seem to have a beneficial effect. These sterols have been found to inhibit the absorption of cholesterol eaten at the same meal.

  • Cholesterol levels in such crustaceans as crab and lobster are similar to that found in the dark meat of chicken. While cholesterol in shrimp varies considerably by species, it is generally 11/2 to 2 times higher than in the dark meat of chicken, but far less than the cholesterol present in eggs.

  • Most of the cholesterol in our bodies is manufactured by our bodies. It didn't come from eating cholesterol, but rather, from eating too much saturated fat. Because shellfish contain very little saturated fat, they are no longer excluded from typical low cholesterol diets. So go ahead and enjoy eating shellfish, but remember, the key is moderation.

    Source:

    Seafood for the Good Life....A Basic Introduction to Seafood Nutrition with Recipes, National Fisheries
    Education and Research Foundation

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    3. How can I tell if the fish I buy is fresh?

  • Always purchase seafood from a dealer who maintains high quality. Trust your senses: the nose knows! Let your eyes and nose be your guide. Fresh fish should have a fresh, mild "ocean breeze" odor, and moist, firm, elastic flesh. When fish age, the flesh softens and slips away from the bone.

  • Whole fish should have clear, full, protruding eyes. As the fish loses freshness, the eyes become cloudy, pink and sunken. Gills should be bright red or pink. Fresh fish should be free of slime.

  • Fresh fillets should have a fresh­cut look with no traces of browning or drying around the edges.

  • Pre-packaged steaks and fillets should be tightly wrapped. There should be no air space between the fish and the wrapping material, and there should be no liquid in the package.

  • Frozen fish should be solidly frozen with no discoloration or drying (freezer burn) on the surface. Packaging materials should not contain ice crystals.

  • Look for the California Seafood hallmark. The California Seafood Council has initiated a voluntary program with quality-conscious retailers and restaurateurs to identify and promote the California catch. The hallmark signifies that the seafood has been produced in California and has been handled according to quality guidelines recommended by the CSC. Closer is Fresher. Buy California seafood and taste the tradition.

    Source:

    Dr. Robert J. Price, Seafood Safety, UCCE Sea Grant Extension Program Publication, 1990
    News about Seafood Safety and Inspection, National Fisheries Institute
    California Seafood Council

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    4. How much seafood should I purchase per serving?

  • An average serving of fish is about three ounces, cooked. Figure on 1/4 pound of raw fillet per person. When buying whole fish, figure on 3/4 pound per person; for dressed, cleaned fish, figure 1/2 pound per person.

  • An average serving of shellfish is 3 to 4 ounces of shellfish meat. When buying live or cooked shellfish with the shell on, figure the following amounts per person: whole crab and lobster, 1-2 pounds; unpeeled shrimp and whole squid, 1/2 pound; breaded shrimp, 4 to 6 pieces.

    Source:

    Seafood for the Good LifeŠA Basic Introduction to Shellfish & A Basic Introduction to Fin Fish, National Fisheries Education and Research Foundation

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    5. Can I get the same Omega-3 fatty acid benefits from fish oil pills as from eating fish?

    The fatty acids in seafood differ from those found in plant and animal sources. A large percentage of the fat in seafood is omega-3 fatty acids, a type of highly polyunsaturated fat found almost exclusively in fish. Omega-3s discourage many processes involved in heart disease:

  • Omega-3's make blood clotting more difficult, thereby preventing the attack itself.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids relax our arteries, help keep them from becoming clogged, and improve blood circulation in the heart.

  • Omega-3's can lower blood fats and blood pressure, which makes heart attack less likely. They also help keep arteries open by discouraging the build up of "plaque" in our blood vessels.

  • Eating fish not only provides omega-3's but can lower saturated fat intake. Both effects lower the risk of heart disease.

  • Taking fish oil capsules, a short cut to obtaining dietary omega-3's, actually increases our fat intake. (It has no effect on our saturated fat intake.) The safety of fish oil capsules has not been adequately established. Fish liver oils contain high levels of cholesterol and vitamins A and D, which are harmful in large amounts.

  • In a study conducted at the University of Western Australia among a group of overweight men who ate fish, took fish oil capsules, or consumed neither for 12 weeks, the cholesterol level of men who ate fish declined an average of 20 percent. Men who ate fish oil reduced cholesterol levels an average of 14 percent. The men who ate fish as part of a low-fat diet seemed to gain the most benefit. These results confirm that there are greater benefits in sitting down to a nice California seafood dinner instead of popping a fish oil pill.

  • In general, the higher the fat content of the fish, the higher its omega-3 content.
    • High-fat fish (more than 5% fat) include: salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, bluefin tuna, sablefish, sardines, herring, anchovies, shad and trout.

    • Medium-fat fish (2.5% - 5% fat) include: Atlantic halibut, yellowfin tuna, mullet, swordfish and bluefish.

    • Low-fat fish (less than 2.5% fat) include: cod, Pacific halibut, pollock, rockfish, grouper, shark, flounder, sole, croaker, red snapper, lingcod, seabass, haddock and whiting.

    Source:

    Seafood for the Good Life...A Basic Introduction to Seafood Nutrition, National Fisheries Education and Research Foundation
    Dr. Joyce A. Nettleton, D.Sc., R.D., Eat Fish and Seafood Twice a Week: It Can Make a Difference

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    6. There are so many varieties of seafood, is there a difference in the way each should be cooked?

    Delicate fish and tender fillets, such as sanddabs and sole, are best poached, steamed or panfried. Medium-dense fish, such as halibut and rockfish, can be poached, panfried, or baked in foil or sauce. Oily fish such as salmon, barracuda, tuna and mackerel, as well as swordfish and shark, are all great on the grill. These fish may also be baked in foil. Tuna and salmon both are delicious steamed or poached when served with a well-seasoned sauce. Of course, any firm fish can be used for stews and chowders.

    Source:

    California Seafood Index, California Seafood Council
    Fish Market Revolution, Sunset Magazine, October 1982

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    7. How can I tell when seafood is done? Mine always turns out dry.

  • There's no secret to cooking fish properly ­ it's all in the timing. Fish is done when the flesh has just begun to turn from translucent to opaque or white and is firm but still moist. Properly cooked fish should flake easily with a fork.

  • Follow the 10­minute rule: cook fish 10 minutes per inch thickness, turning it halfway through the cooking process. Add 5 minutes to the total cooking time if the fish is cooked in foil or cooked in a sauce. Double the cooking time for frozen fish that has not been defrosted.

    Source:

    CA Basic Introduction to Fin Fish, National Fisheries Education and Research Foundation

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    8. How can I keep my house from smelling "fishy" when I cook fish?

  • Fresh fish has a mild, fresh odor. If seafood is fresh to begin with and is handled properly from the market to the home, and refrigerated promptly at or below 40 degrees F until cooked, it should maintain that quality for 1 to 2 days. Ideally, fish should be cooked the same day it is purchased.

  • Assemble all your cooking utensils and ingredients before taking fish from the refrigerator to minimize the time it is exposed to air at room temperature. If you're frying fish, be sure the oil is fresh and at the proper temperature.

  • Remember, if the fish doesn't smell before you cook it, it won't smell fishy while it is being cooked. Always start with high quality fresh fish and your house won't smell fishy.

    Source:

    Marciel Klenk, C.H.E., UCCE home economist and youth advisor, Napa County, California.

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    9. I hear eating seafood is healthy. Just what are the nutritional benefits?

  • Seafood is "nutrient-dense." That means it offers large quantities of protein and significant amounts of vitamins and minerals without high levels of saturated fats and calories.

  • Seafood is an excellent source of complete protein, providing all the essential amino acids. The protein in seafood is easily digestible, making it a perfect nutrition source for people of all ages.

  • Seafood is a good source of B vitamins and provides such key minerals and trace elements as calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, sulfur, florine, selenium, copper, zinc and iodine. All these elements are necessary for proper development and growth.

  • Seafood contains a very small amount of fat. Most varieties of fish and shellfish contain less than 5 percent fat. Even high-fat fish generally have less than 15 percent fat, which is considerably lower than red meat. Seafood is also lower in saturated fat than most other protein sources. By substituting fish meals for some meat meals, you can considerably lower your total fat and saturated fat intake.

  • Seafood is generally low in sodium. Most fresh finfish contain very low amounts of sodium, ranging from 60 to 100 milligrams per 100 grams, or 31/2 ounces of raw fish.

  • Cholesterol levels are not significant in most seafood products. Finfish are generally quite low in cholesterol, with shellfish having low to moderate amounts. Even species with higher cholesterol levels, such as squid, contain less cholesterol than eggs, and are well within the 300 mg daily limit recommended by leading health organizations.

    Source:

    Seafood for the Good Life...A basic Introduction to Seafood Nutrition, National Fisheries Education and Research Foundation

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    10. Is seafood inspected for safety and graded for quality like meat?

  • Overseen by a combination of six federal and state agencies, California's commercial fishing industry is one of the most heavily regulated, inspected and monitored in the United States. In California the Food and Drug Branch of the California Department of Health Services has primary responsibility for seafood safety in the state. Regulations on the seafood industry include mandatory registration of all California seafood processors and a mandatory annual inspection for sanitation, packaging, proper temperature control procedures and other public health concerns. A similar mandatory inspection is required in markets and restaurants, with inspections performed by county health department inspectors at least annually and often several times throughout the year.

  • Shellfish growing areas are certified and regulated, and California's local waters are monitored for biotoxins and chemical contaminants. Also, the CDHS maintains strict requirements for California canneries, including mandatory licensing and inspection of all cooking processes. Each lot produced must meet five criteria before it can be approved for sale.

  • California's commercial seafood industry has also participated in a voluntary state-of-the-art training and certification program based on the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP, pronounced HASS-IP) system. HACCP takes a proactive approach to food safety with mandatory measures to prevent food safety hazards, rather than trying to find and correct problems after the fact. Preventative measures are applied at control points throughout the seafood handling process, such as: point of receipt, storage conditions, cook and post-cook preparation, and shipping/transportation. The HACCP program establishes a record-keeping system and regularly monitors critical control points, thus pinpointing potential problems before they occur.

  • Although Americans enjoy one of the safest food supplies in the world - and seafood has a very strong safety record, implicated in less than one percent of all foodborne illnesses in the United States - consumers can expect even greater assurance that seafood is safe and wholesome as a result of a tough new inspection program announced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1994. The FDA is now instituting an industry-wide, mandatory HACCP-based inspection program for everyone who handles, processes and stores seafood, including overseas packers and U.S. seafood importers. California's seafood industry has supported the effort to provide even safer and more wholesome seafood across the nation.

  • As the only food overseen by the FDA and accorded its own Office of Seafood, efforts to ensure seafood safety are considered the litmus test for food safety standards in the U.S. Based on current success, these regulations and HACCP programs are being studied for implementation by regulators for the beef and poultry industries.

  • Seafood is unlike beef in that it represents a tremendous variety of species. Thus uniform grading standards cannot be applied equally to all seafoods. However, uniform methods of analysis are applied to all types of seafood and all aspects of processing and preparation. Many of these have been adopted by the FDA for use in the HACCP inspection program.

    Source:

    California Seafood Council National Fisheries Institute

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    NOTE: These questions were compiled by Marciel Klenk, C.H.E., UCCE home economist and youth advisor for Napa County, California, from numerous seafood workshops that she has conducted over the past several years. Mrs. Klenk also serves as Public Member of the California Seafood Council.

    California Seafood Council, PO Box 91540,		Santa Barbara, CA 93190 +1-805-569-8050