Imperial, California - Shrimp has surpassed tuna in popularity, with each American consuming almost 4 pounds of it on average per year. However, if shrimp isn’t raised, caught, and handled properly, this popular seafood item can pose some potential risks to consumers and the environment.
Consumer Reports recently tested 342 samples of frozen shrimp – 284 raw and 58 cooked – and found bacteria that can potentially make a consumer sick and illegal antibiotic residues that raise some cause for concern. The shrimp samples were purchased at large chain supermarkets, big-box stores, and “natural” food stores in 27 cities across the U.S. They were tested for bacteria including salmonella, vibrio, staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, and listeria.
Consumer Reports found one or more types of bacteria on 60 percent of the raw samples. And, seven samples of raw shrimp tested positive for MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), a concerning antibiotic-resistant bacterium, likely occurring from processing or handling, which can cause serious skin and blood infections that are often difficult to treat.
In eleven samples of raw imported farmed shrimp, illegal antibiotic residues were detected in Consumer Reports’ tests. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the use of any antibiotics in shrimp farming, and told Consumer Reports that if those drugs had been detected in even one sample of imported shrimp, the entire shipment would have been refused entry into the U.S.
While the antibiotic residues found on the shrimp Consumer Reports tested do not pose an acute health risk for an individual consumer, these findings raise concerns about the overuse of antibiotics in shrimp production. The overuse of these drugs can ultimately lead to bacteria becoming resistant to them and these antibiotics may no longer work to treat common human ailments.
The FDA is responsible for inspecting shrimp coming into the U.S. to make sure it doesn’t contain any drugs or chemicals that aren’t permitted in imported shrimp. About 94 percent of America’s shrimp is imported, but in 2014, the FDA examined only 3.7 percent of foreign shrimp shipments, and tested only 0.7 percent, raising concern about the level of inspection at U.S. ports.
“It’s important to consider how the shrimp you’re buying was raised, and how and where it was caught,” said Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., Executive Director of Consumer Reports' Food Safety and Sustainability Center. “There are plenty of choices available that are both healthy for consumers and good from an environmentally sustainable standpoint. The use of antibiotics is particularly concerning as overuse can lead to the rise of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can’t be easily controlled.”
The full article, “How Safe Is Your Shrimp?” is featured in the June 2015 issue of Consumer Reports and at www.ConsumerReports.org.
What the Government Should Do
Consumer Reports is urging the FDA to take a closer look at its practices and policies related to shrimp imports. To keep consumers safe, Congress should increase the FDA's inadequate food safety funding, and Consumer Reports believes the agency should do the following:
Significantly step up inspection programs at U.S. ports and at overseas shrimp farms and processing plants that supply shrimp.
Increase testing of imported shrimp for antibiotics and ensure that they are able to detect them at the lowest levels that modern technology allows.
Add vibrio to the list of bacteria the FDA tests for in shrimp. And, put measures in place to help producers control vibrio contamination, both at shrimp farms and at processing plants that shell, devein, and package shrimp. Freezing is thought to kill vibrio, but 28 percent of the uncooked frozen shrimp samples Consumer Reports tested contained the bacteria.
Reject all shrimp imports that test positive for MRSA.
Smart Shrimp Shopping
While farmed shrimp can be less expensive than wild shrimp caught in the ocean, Consumer Reports tests suggest that wild shrimp from U.S. waters may be worth the higher price. Of all the shrimp tested, wild shrimp were among the least likely to harbor any kind of bacteria or contain chemicals. When it comes to safety and sustainability, responsibly-caught U.S. wild shrimp is Consumer Reports’ top choice. Below are some other things consumers should consider when shopping for shrimp:
When buying wild shrimp, look for those listed as “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” at seafoodwatch.org or certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, an organization that ensures shrimpers are fishing responsibly.
When buying farmed shrimp, look for those with these certifications: Naturland, Aquaculture Stewardship Council, or Whole Foods Market Responsibly Farmed.
Be wary of shrimp marketed as “organic.” No organic standards exist for shrimp, or for any seafood, in the U.S. There are also no standards or regulations for the terms “Natural,” “Environmentally Aware,” and “Chemical-free.”
While there is no foolproof way to ensure consumers won’t get sick from bacteria on shrimp, proper handling, storage, and cooking can reduce risk. Cooking shrimp should kill the bacteria. Though buying cooked shrimp may be convenient, it doesn’t guarantee safety.
The full report on shrimp also includes safe prep tips, the lowdown on labels, and more and is available in Consumer Reports June 2015 issue and at www.ConsumerReports.org.
About Consumer Reports
Consumer Reports is the world’s largest and most trusted nonprofit, consumer organization working to improve the lives of consumers by driving marketplace change. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has achieved substantial gains for consumers on health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other issues. The organization has advanced important policies to cut hospital-acquired infections, prohibit predatory lending practices and combat dangerous toxins in food. Consumer Reports tests and rates thousands of products and services in its 50-plus labs, state-of-the-art auto test center and consumer research center. Consumers Union, a division of Consumer Reports, works for pro-consumer laws and regulations in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. With more than eight million subscribers to its flagship magazine, website and other publications, Consumer Reports accepts no advertising, payment or other support from the companies whose products it evaluates.
Funding for this project was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Any views expressed are those of Consumer Reports and its advocacy arm, Consumers Union, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts.