What about Listeria? Pregnant women advised to eat more fish

I was talking with daughter Braunwynn today about her future academic and travel plans. She also wanted to know my preferred way to cook pork chops.

But this is about fish, and as Braunwynn said when she was in Brisbane, “How can I go back after this?”

amy.pregnant.listeriaWe are fortunate in Brisbane to have a fabulous supply of seafood.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said women and children should eat more fish, but sidestepped the issue of raw or undercooked seafood for pregnant women.

It’d be nice for all the mothers out there, who are already inundated with contradictory messages, if FDA consolidated toxin and microbiological risk information into a cohesive message. For example, pregnant women shouldn’t be eating any refrigerated ready-to-eat seafood like salad or smoked salmon.

Liz Szabo of USA Today writes that federal officials for the first time are recommending that young children and pregnant or breastfeeding women eat a minimum of two to three servings a week of fish that is low in mercury, in order to give them important health benefits.

Current guidelines, released a decade ago, focused on limiting the amount of fish consumed by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, due to concerns about contamination from methylmercury, which can cause brain damage, especially to developing brains, said Elizabeth Southerland of the Environmental Protection Agency, which released the new guidelines along with the Food and Drug Administration.

That advice apparently scared a lot of women into avoiding fish altogether. Research has shown that 21% of pregnant women ate no fish at all in the past month, said Stephen Ostroff, acting chief scientist at the FDA. Even among women who consumed fish, half ate fewer than 2 ounces a week.

braun.sorenne.2.aug.14But fish contain heart-healthy oils, such as omega-3 fatty acids, says Edward R.B. McCabe, medical director of the March of Dimes Foundation. There’s also limited evidence that fish oils may promote a baby’s brain development. McCabe praised the agencies’ decision to encourage more fish consumption, along with a balanced diet.

So now, instead of telling these women to eat no more than two servings of fish a week, officials advise them to eat at least two servings and up to three servings a week of fish that’s low in mercury. Officials continue to advise women to avoid four fish with higher mercury levels: shark; swordfish; king mackerel and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico. Those four fish make up less than 2% of fish sold in the USA, Ostroff says.

Nine of the 10 most frequently sold fish in the USA are lower in mercury, Ostroff says. The fish used in fish sticks and other commercial products is also usually low in mercury, he said. Fish that are lower in mercury include shrimp, pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod, he said.

“The health benefits far outweigh any risk,” Ostroff says.

The draft’s updated advice did recommend that pregnant or breastfeeding women limit their consumption of white (also called albacore) tuna to 6 ounces a week.

Fish folks say actor Jeremy Piven wet about mercury claims

Seafood overload for dinner Saturday night. Crab legs and lobster tail on clearance in the seafood capital of the Midwest, a decent Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (I’m having a Sideways moment), and corn. Sorenne loves the corn-on-the-cob (below).

Jeremy Piven (right), excellent in The Larry Sanders Show before cable shows became hip, a bunch of movies with childhood friend John Cusack, and now as super-ego agent Ari Gold on Entourage, which has become as boring as E’s personaiitly seems on the show, also likes the seafood. Piven says he’s been eating fish twice a day for 20 years and that contributed to methylmercury poisoning which caused him to leave the cast of a Broadway play in 2008.

The producers said, no way, and took action against Piven. An arbitrator cleared Piven of any wrongdoing.

But the National Fisheries Institute said in a recent statement
to “treat Piven’s statements with skepticism. …

“It is important to note that no peer-reviewed medical journal has ever published any evidence of a case of methylmercury poisoning caused by the normal consumption of commercial seafood in the U.S. This ruling does not change that simple scientific fact.”

Mital Pandya: Dangerous dolphin meat

Mital Pandya writes:

I consider myself a food enthusiast, and I spend a lot of time and effort reading reviews and traveling to seek out the best food out there. However, I don’t eat dolphin, but some people apparently do… Flipper anyone?

In certain regions of Japan, many consider dolphin meat to be a delicacy, though unaware of the dangers associated with the meal. Two elected officials of a Japanese whaling town, Taiji, tested random samples of dolphin meat at supermarkets.

“One dolphin sample had a mercury content 10 times above the health ministry’s advisory level of 0.4 parts per million, with a methylmercury readout 10.33 times over the ministry’s own advisory level of 0.3 ppm.”

The CDC also has an official report on mercury levels warning people of the health hazards of mercury, at http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts46.html.

“The form of mercury that accumulates in the food chain is methylmercury. When small fish eat the methylmercury in food, it goes into their tissues. When larger fish eat smaller fish or other organisms that contain methylmercury, most of the methylmercury originally present in the small fish will then be stored in the bodies of the larger fish. As a result, the larger and older fish living in contaminated waters build up the highest amounts of methylmercury in their bodies.”

High levels of mercury can cause severe damage to the nervous system, as well as permanent damage to the brain and kidneys, and children are especially susceptible.

Both the short term and long term damages caused by the consumption of dolphin meat are enough for me to say, “Dolphin it’s not for dinner."

Though this problem has been known for years now, it has recently been highlighted in the high-publicity documentary, The Cove, which won the audience award at Sundance Film Festival this year.

“Flipper was one of the most beloved television characters of all time. But ironically, the fascination with dolphins that he caused created a tragic epidemic that has threatened their existence and become a multibillion dollar industry. The largest supplier of dolphins in the world is located in the picturesque town of Taijii, Japan. But the town has a dark, horrifying secret that it doesn’t want the rest of the world to know. There are guards patrolling the cove, where the dolphin capturing takes place, who prevent any photography.” 

Mital Pandya is a current USDA research scientist in Orient Point, NY. In 2007 she received her Masters degree in Public Health from Ohio State University. She is passionate about food, loves to knit, and travel.

FDA and EPA acting fishy about mercury

I love fish, and would eat it at every meal if I could.  But I know quite a few people that can’t stand it.  Some claim the smell, it’s so…. fishy.  Why eat fish in the first place? According to the American Heart Association, fish is a good source of protein and, unlike fatty meat products, it’s not high in saturated fat. It’s also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit heart health.

When choosing what kind fish to eat, pregnant women and young children should stick with sea creatures with the lowest known levels of mercury, such as shrimp, oysters, clams, sardines, anchovies and herring, as well as hake, tilapia, crayfish and whiting.  Large predatory fish, such as shark and swordfish, are very likely to contain high levels of mercury and consumption of them should be restricted if not avoided by high-risk individuals.
FDA and EPA experts currently advise pregnant women and women of childbearing age, who may become pregnant, that they can safely eat up to 12 ounces — roughly two servings — of most fish a week, but should limit their intake of albacore tuna to 6 ounces a week.

Now the two agencies are in disagreement over the two-serving limit.  The F.D.A. has circulated a draft report suggesting that the vast majority of fetuses and infants would actually benefit if their mothers ate more than two servings of fish a week because fish contain highly beneficial nutrients that aid in brain development and that those benefits outweigh any potential harm.  Those contentions are sharply disputed by specialists at the E.P.A. who charged that the report had “serious scientific flaws,” relied on questionable models and should not be used as a basis for decision-making.

We’ll have to see where the final lines are drawn.  Until then, enjoy moderate amounts of safe seafood.  As with all meat products consumed by pregnant women, the fish should be thoroughly cooked and properly stored.  Pregnant women should always avoid sushi and other kinds of raw meat.


Pregnant women should eat lots of fish low in mercury

Knowing what to eat when pregnant can be tough. Like any other area of food safety, different governments and experts often make different recommendations. This can lead to confusion. I got a PhD in food science and struggle with this stuff all the time.

So here goes.

Dr. Emily Oken of Harvard Medical School in Boston and her colleagues reported in the May 15 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology that three-year-olds whose mothers ate more fish while pregnant with them score better on several tests of cognitive function than their peers whose mothers avoided seafood.

However, the researchers also found that the amount of mercury in a woman’s body rose with the amount of fish she had consumed — and that children exposed to more mercury performed worse on these tests. Based on the findings, they say, it’s possible fish could have even greater brain benefits for babies if mothers-to-be consumed seafood with lower mercury levels.

The authors wrote,

"Recommendations for fish consumption during pregnancy should take into account the nutritional benefits of fish as well as the potential harms from mercury exposure. …  Maternal consumption of fish lower in mercury and reduced environmental mercury contamination would allow for stronger benefits of fish intake."

My take is — and I know more about bugs than I do about chemicals — pregnant women should eat plenty of fish that is low in mercury. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued some decent advice in 2004, and has tables of fish lower in mercury. The Australian New South Wales Food Authority also has a decent overview.

The FDA says:

• do not eat Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury;

• eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury; and,

• five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.