Skip to main content
CNN Europe CNN Asia
On CNN TV Transcripts Headline News CNN International About Preferences
powered by Yahoo!
On The Scene

Enjoy but take care: Bad fish can make you sick

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta

   Story Tools

(CNN) -- Health conscious Americans are eating a lot of fish these days, but a consumer safety group warns that the safety net to ensure that seafood is safe to eat has many dangerous holes. What can consumers do? CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta joined anchor Paula Zahn to explain.

GUPTA: We are a fish-eating nation.

ZAHN: How much do we eat a year?

GUPTA: About 15 pounds a year per person, which -- I did the math -- is about 4.5 billion pounds a year of fish.

That is a lot of fish. Nowhere near as much red meat, though -- 64 pounds per person on average of red meat. But we are still eating a lot more fish, and that is because it's a health conscious food, and people are certainly concerned about their health.

But people have certainly become concerned about the safety hazards. Fish is responsible for more food-poisoning outbreaks than any other food group, 539 food outbreaks over the last 12 years.

That is a lot. Typically, there is all sorts of different organisms that can cause these sorts of outbreaks. You have heard of some of them, for example, botulism and ciguatera.

Some of these organisms can be very dangerous. We talk about shellfish, in particular, being dangerous. Shellfish, just from a pure anatomy standpoint, actually pump water in and out of their bodies. That is important to know because they retain a lot of these potentially toxic organisms in their bodies, so shellfish are some of the most dangerous food.

But the most dangerous seafood of all is actually smoked fish.

ZAHN: Why?

GUPTA: A lot of times it is because of the preparation and the handling of smoked fish. They don't keep it at the right temperature for long enough, smoked fish tends to sit out for a long period of time. And that can be a problem. It can retain a lot of organisms, potentially toxic organisms.

Foodborne illness -- it's no fun. Typically not fatal, but it can be very, very uncomfortable. Nausea, vomiting, it just completely wipes you out. You know it if you have it.

ZAHN: So what is this group, CSPI, asking the government to do?

GUPTA: The Center for Science and Public Interest. They have been on the government for a while about seafoods. In fact, five years ago, they had new regulations passed. But these are just an idea of some of the things that CSPI wants the government to really hone in on:

  • Listeria in ready-to-eat fish, fish that you can just buy off the store and eat it right away.
  • Ciguatera, again, in reef fish.
  • Methylmercury -- Pregnant women and young children in particular, high levels of mercury can be a real problem. Why? Because it will possibly cause defects in the way the bones are formed, the way the body develops. If you're a pregnant woman, you probably want to stay away from all of the predatory fish. That is sharks, swordfish, mackerel.
  • ZAHN: What is it that we are supposed to do at home?

    GUPTA: There are a lot of things that you can keep in mind, especially in regard to the preparation of fish. First of all, there are some fish that are worse than others, that are more dangerous than others. Let's just take a look at the list of some of those fish.

    Less safe fish:

  • Barracuda
  • Clams
  • Mahi-mahi
  • Oysters
  • Smoked fish
  • Smoked salmon
  • Swordfish
  • Tuna steaks
  • Safer fish

  • Canned tuna fish
  • Cod
  • Flounder
  • Haddock
  • Halibut
  • Salmon
  • Scallops
  • If you're cooking the fish, there are certain things to sort of keep in mind in how you prepare the fish. Certainly, you have got to keep the fish at the right temperature.

    There is a little list there. Cook, separate, chill, clean and report.

  • Cook it properly
  • Separate foods -- fish is not a good food to cross-contaminate. Don't put this in the Tupperware with other sorts of foods.
  • Make sure you chill it properly
  • Report -- if there is a problem. It's important to report that so other people don't get sick as well. Call the restaurant, call somebody to let them know that you possibly did get sick from their food.

  • Story Tools

    Top Stories
    Candy makers target fitness market
    Top Stories
    CNN/Money: Security alert issued for 40 million credit cards
    © 2004 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
    A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
    Terms under which this service is provided to you.
    Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
    external link
    All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.