Why the Concern?
The question of seafood safety arises during pregnancy because of the possible exposure to bacteria, which may cause food poisoning, and to chemicals that have contaminated the oceans and lakes.
Seafood Do's and Don'ts
Normally, when you cook seafood or any animal product, cooking the food to the correct temperature reduces or kills the bacteria. That's why it is very important to know the correct degree to cook the interior of your beef, fish, chicken, and eggs. And always thoroughly wash your hands after touching raw fish or seafood, and carefully clean and disinfect all surfaces the food has touched.
Uncleaned, raw, or undercooked fish may carry a risk of parasitic infection (worms), though shellfish is the culprit behind the majority of seafood-borne illness. The FDA says the greatest risk is from raw or undercooked molluscan shellfish, particularly clams, oysters, and mussels from contaminated waters. Bacteria such as Salmonella, Vibrio parahemolyticus, Vibrio vulnificus, and Staphylococcus aureus have all been found in raw seafood. Still, the risk of getting sick from raw shellfish is about one in 250,000, compared with the one in a million chance of illness from any other type of seafood. (You may think that a one in 250,000 chance is too close for comfort, but keep in mind that chicken causes food poisoning in about one in 25,000 people.)
Choosing Seafood Wisely
When choosing fish and shellfish at the grocery store, look for the Grade A label and for the US Department of Interior shield. The shield means that the fish were packed under continuous inspection by the Department of the Interior. The characteristics to look for in fish are shiny, unfaded skin, red gills, and clear eyes. A mild odor is OK. Frozen fish should be encased in airtight packaging and frozen solidly.
When you purchase fresh fish, refrigerate it immediately and cook it within the next 48 hours. Freeze the fish if you are not serving it within the next three days. Fish should stay good in the freezer for about three to six months, as long as you keep it frozen at a constant temperature.
Eating Seafood Out
The way to protect yourself when you go out to eat at a seafood restaurant is to go to ones that are busy all the time. Generally, that indicates that they are going through their seafood more quickly, so it's not sitting around growing more and more bacteria. As a general rule, if the restaurant looks dirty in the dining room, it's probably worse in the kitchen area. So, choose your restaurants wisely.
The same goes for your local grocery store. Try shopping at a grocery store that carries all organically grown produce and other naturally grown foods. They may be less likely to carry fish exposed to chemicals. In addition, avoid eating sushi with raw fish, and any other raw fish or shellfish while pregnant. They are more likely to be sources of parasites and bacteria.
Chemicals and Toxins in Fish
Chemicals released into the oceans and fresh waters, however, are more difficult to avoid than preventable illness. Toxic chemicals found in some fish, such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), PBBs (polybrominated biphenyls), and mercury, are the result of uncontrolled outflow from factories.
Best Seafood Choices
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that an expectant mom can safely eat up to 12 ounces a week, which is two average meals, of the following seafood:
- Canned light tuna, but limiting albacore tuna and tuna steak to no more than 6 ounces a week
Fish to Avoid
The FDA advises expectant moms to avoid the following fish:
- King mackerel