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Dangers of Imported Shrimp

Posted in Food Safety,Vibrio on November 8, 2018

According to Consumer Reports, the US consumes almost 18 million servings a day of shrimp. And most of that shrimp is imported. Every now and then word goes around about rejected food shipments from China, usually accompanied by truly alarming accounts of the conditions where fish and shrimp are raised for food and sometimes even the tales from ABC News’ independent testing of shrimp purchased in grocery stores around the country (the shrimp had detectable levels of dangerous antibiotics). Most of the information comes from headlines from 2012. However, according to NOAA, over 80 percent of our seafood is still imported from Asia, the news still warrants attention.

According to NOAA, the US imports seafood primarily from China, Thailand, Canada, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Ecuador. The top imports (by volume) include shrimp, freshwater fish, tuna, salmon, groundfish, crab, and squid.

This article from Business Insider from 2012, and this article by ABC describe how tilapia in China are fed pig and bird feces—feces which carry salmonella and weaken the immune systems of the fish. Shrimp in Vietnam are stored on ice made from impure tap water, and their farms also rely on antibiotics that are illegal in the US. Another article details the conditions of shrimp in Vietnam, describing contaminated ice, flies buzzing around open containers, and otherwise bacteria infested conditions. Wired highlights how these farmers are essentially fish factories, and as such rely heavily on antibiotics, and certain strains of fish and shrimp have been banned at various different times by the FDA.

In 2013 the USDA issued a 27 page report on food safety concerns on food imported from China. The short version is that because of the wide variety of sources for seafood, China has a very difficult time regulating the quality of conditions for the farming of seafood. Some farms are state of the art, some are not. There doesn’t appear to be any indication that this has changed in the past six years. While the FDA inspects some of the food imported and turns away contaminated food, it is difficult to trust that they will catch every single instance of tainted food. According to Consumer Reports, the FDA tests less than 1% of the food imported, and their own testing has found illegal antibiotics and

An additional complication to all this watery mess, much of the imported seafood is actually caught by American fisherman, exported overseas for processing before being reimported to the US. It’s very difficult to be sure of anything.

The Risk

Fish and seafood can carry a number of dangerous bacteria, including salmonella and listeria. For most healthy people, food poisoning is a short and wildly unpleasant experience with diarrhea and vomiting. However, for the elderly, the very young, pregnant woman or immunocompromised people the risks are much, much greater. Some diseases can even lead to death.

How to Protect Your Family When Buying Seafood

First off, pay attention to any recalls and return, toss, or do not buy, recalled products.

  • When purchasing seafood, check the packaging to determine the source. According to NOAA, “All seafood sold in the United States is required to have country of origin labeling right on the package.”
  • When possible, purchase wild caught fish. Consult the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch to help you choose responsibly sourced shrimp and fish.
  • There are no US standards for terms like “Organic” or “Natural” when used on seafood. Consumer reports provides additional insight on other marketing terms which mean nothing when applied to shrimp or other seafood.
Environmentally aware


An easy claim to make, but it’s not backed by a consistent set of standards to ensure that shrimp were sustainably caught or farmed.




This term has no official definition for shrimp. Ignore it.


No antibiotics


On meat and poultry, this term means what it says, but when it comes to shrimp, the term is not defined by the FDA.


No hormones


There is no government or official definition for this term on shrimp.




There is no approved standard for organic seafood in the U.S.




There is no regulated definition of “sustainable.” Any seller can make this claim.


Turtle Safe


This claim is not backed by a consistent set of standards.


How to Protect Your Family When Cooking Seafood

When all else fails, properly cooking seafood kills bacteria. Proper storage prevents otherwise clean seafood from becoming contaminated.

The FDA’s basic guide for raw meat applies also to seafood: Clean. Separate. Cook. Chill.

  1. Clean.
  • Make sure to wash your hands in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after touching seafood.
  • Wash your cutting boards and utensils with hot soapy water after working with seafood.
  • Wash counter tops and sinks before and after handling raw seafood to remove the possibility of splatter contamination.
  1. Separate.
  • Even when shopping, keep your raw seafood separate from your produce and dry goods. In the cart. In the bags. In the refrigerator at home.
  • Have designated meat cutting boards. Do not use these for produce.
  1. Cook.
  • Follow the safety guidelines for meat internal temperatures, using a meat thermometer, preferably digital, so you can know for sure. The safe internal temperature for fish is 145 °F. Since it’s almost impossible to take the temperature of a shellfish or a delicate fillet, the USDA says that it is considered safe to judge by other factors:
  • Cook fish till flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork.
  • Cook crabs, lobster, and shrimp until the flesh is opaque and pearly.
  • Cook clams, mussels, and oysters until their shells open.
  • Cook scallops until they are milky white or firm and opaque.
  1. Chill.
  • Make sure to put seafood in the fridge or freezer within 2 hours of cooking or removing from the cooler at the store. If it is 90 degrees or hotter outside, make that 1 hour.
  • When thawing or marinating, keep seafood in the fridge. You can also thaw under cold water or in the microwave. Cook immediately after thawing.
  • When serving at a party, make sure to use ice to keep cold seafood dishes cold.

By: Abigail Cossette Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)