Only a very few seafood species contain mercury – typically higher order predators (like big sharks) or those that live to an older age (Blue Grenadier). The majority of Australian seafood does not pose a risk. The species that do contain mercury may pose a risk for vulnerable populations especially if they eat large volumes regularly.
Consuming seafood regularly is a healthy habit and eating it twice a week is safe for most people.
Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant and young children need to limit their intake of seafood species with higher mercury levels. For these vulnerable groups, FSANZ recommends:
- Limit orange roughy (deep sea perch) or catfish to once per week and eat no other fish or seafood that week.
- Limit of shark (flake) or billfish (swordfish/broadbill or marlin) to one serve per fortnight and eat no other fish or seafood that fortnight.
Fresh and canned Salmon do not contain mercury. Likewise, canned tuna has low levels of mercury because they are smaller and younger fish.
For pregnant women to enjoy seafood 3-4 times per week, it is best to avoid species high in mercury.
Food borne illness
Seafood is nutritious for both humans and food pathogens. Therefore, safe food handling is important.
Keep it cold – keep seafood in the fridge (at 4o or below), or frozen at -18o.
Keep it separate - keep seafood wrapped or in a container to prevent leakage. Keep raw seafood away from cooked seafood, and away from all other foods to prevent cross contamination.
Keep everything clean - keep hands, surfaces, knives and containers clean. Use hot soapy water to prevent contamination and cross-contamination.
You can find more tips for safe seafood handling on the Preparing section of this website.
Introducing a variety of solid foods -including seafood- to infants around the age of 6 months may help reduce the risk of food allergy (NH&MRC 2013 Infant feeding guidelines). However, for those who do have an established fish or shellfish allergy, avoidance is essential. Fish and shellfish are on the list of allergens that Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) require to be declared on food labels, or at the point of sale for unpackaged foods.
Many parents worry about giving seafood to children because of the risk of choking on bones, however seafood is too nutritious to miss out on. There are many species with large bones that are easy to see and remove, and boneless fillets are an excellent option. Having a small fish bone stuck in the throat is rarely an emergency and can be dislodged by swallowing other food such as bread or banana. A scratch of the soft palate may cause lingering discomfort or irritation, but this shouldn’t last. Normal production of acid in the stomach will usually soften a small bone.Seek medical attention if concerned, or if there is severe pain.