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The International Writers Magazine: Food Talk

Caution: Tuna Melts
Chef Jeffrey Allen Kaufman
Before you open that can of Tuna, or bake off a Salmon Fillet, take a little moment here and think about what exactly you are putting into your body.


Tuna is a beautiful, and wonderfully delicious item of consumption sold and shipped all across the globe, but there can be a slight risk involved when you open up a can and make a meal from it. Tuna and other salt Water Fish species like Salmon carry trace amounts to substantial amounts of heavy metals, lead, and others, but mostly Mercury. This can happen in the wild, or even during the processing stage, but never the less, Mercury Contamination does make it's rounds throughout the United States in many forms.

The FDA says they can remove fish with mercury contamination above 1 ppm from a market source, but it never has. According to "One in three of sushi tuna samples tested by Oceana exceeded the FDA action level. Despite these findings, however, fresh tuna, like that found in sushi, is not included in the FDA's "Do Not Eat" advice."

Most larger, longer living, cultivated fish are contaminated, not tainted. While Yellow fin, and dolphin are highly regarded as a delicacy, they can be found to be much higher in Mercury deposits due to their growth time, and harvested weights. Some Chefs use without regard, these highly unacceptable tainted fish, in a variety of productions, and most of the Tuna used in Industrial and Gourmet cooking or production comes from larger older fish. This being Albacore, because of it's white and flaky flesh, even taste and sweeter flavor, it is highly used in all forms of production in kitchens all around America.

Pacific Salmon, wild caught, and farm raised are used quite a bit in Sushi presentations, along with eel, and tuna. The older the fish, the higher the content possibility.There are many factors in the farm raising, and cultivation of Salmon that can introduce these fish to Mercury. The feeding itself, and area in which they are being raised can lead to Mercury contamination, and along with the processing plant, can also introduce these fish to being tainted. While you can buy Salmon in many forms, one of the more dangerous purchases that can be made comes from Smoked Scottish Salmon, a highly delectable form of processing, but again, these are mostly larger wild caught fish, that are very close to the edge of high contents of Mercury.

It can be very hard for consumers to find information about mercury in a grocery store, market or restaurant. The FDA has yet to apply a stronger stance on the labeling of items such as tuna in a store setting, but they do make it known that the risks are there. The FDA recommends that women of childbearing age and young children should not eat these four high-mercury containing species: swordfish, all species of shark, tile-fish and king mackerel. The FDA also makes the recommendation of limiting consumption of albacore tuna or tuna steaks to six ounces or less each week, and limiting low-mercury fish to 12 ounces or less per week.

The overall best practice for any Chef is to use younger harvested fish, and not wild caught. Being a chef for over 20 years, I have purchased accidentally, higher mercury contaminated tuna. Albacore is considered the best, and most expensive, but after some research I discovered White Albacore to be the highest in Mercury content and stopped buying it, again due the harvested weights and ages of these fish.

While in Sushi production, I switched to a fresh water eel variety, rather than a salt water species. I also started using processed seaweed, rather than the fresh, again to lower toxins in my productions.Little things like this are just a small change, but it greatly reduces the chances of feeding people something that can cause over time a added health risk. While there are some people who demand a certain variety of fish and do not care of the metal tainting, once explained that the reasoning for my changes in production, some, if not most do take the time to consider my stance! I'd rather know I'm serving higher quality, with a lower quality fish, than serve a considered high quality fish, with a toxin contamination. Being practical is beneficial.

© Chef Jeffrey Kaufman March 2010
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Jeffrey A Kaufman
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