But, if shrimp isn’t raised, caught, and handled properly, it can pose risks to consumers and the environment.
Consumer Reports recently tested 342 samples of frozen shrimp – 284 raw and 58 cooked – and found bacteria that could make a consumer sick and illegal antibiotic residues.
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 methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus or MRSA.
In 11 samples of raw imported farmed shrimp, illegal antibiotic residues were found. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved the use of antibiotics in shrimp farming. It told Consumer Reports that if those drugs had been detected in 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 don’t pose an acute health risk for an individual consumer, these findings raise concerns about the overuse of antibiotics in shrimp production, said Urvashi Rangan, executive director of Consumer Reports' Food Safety and Sustainability Center. The overuse of antibiotics can lead to bacteria becoming resistant to them, and they may no longer work to treat human.
The FDA inspects shrimp coming into the U.S. to make sure it doesn’t contain any drugs or chemicals that aren’t permitted. 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.
What the government should do
Consumer Reports is urging the FDA to take a closer look at its policies related to shrimp imports. To keep consumers safe, Congress should increase the FDA's food safety funding, and Consumer Reports believes the agency should do the following:
- 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’re able to detect them at the low levels.
- Add vibrio to the list of bacteria the FDA tests for in shrimp. In addition, 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.
How to shop for shrimp
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 the shrimp tested, wild shrimp were among the least likely to contain bacteria or chemicals. 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.
- 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.”
- Proper handling, storage, and cooking of shrimp can reduce risk. Cooking shrimp should kill the bacteria. Although buying cooked shrimp may be convenient, it doesn’t guarantee safety.
See the article, “How Safe Is Your Shrimp?” in the June 2015 issue of Consumer Reports, at www.ConsumerReports.org, and at libraries.