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Question: Can I use a home test for mercury to check for mercury in fish, like canned tuna, fresh fish, and sushi?
Answer: Mercury contamination is a significant problem in fish and it would be great to be able to check mercury levels with an easy home test. However, as explained below, standard home tests for mercury are not well-suited to detect mercury in solid foods, like fish.
It is recommended that consumption of fish be limited to no more than twice a week when mercury levels are above 0.15 ppm, once a week when levels are above 0.23 ppm, and avoided when levels are above 0.46 ppm.
When ConsumerLab tests fish for mercury (see our Canned Tuna and Salmon Review), the samples must be digested with acids to release mercury — which is typically bound to the protein in fish meat. This is done with sulfuric and nitric acid in a specialized digestion flask and the solution is heated to evaporate the mercury -- which is collected with a condenser unit. Analysis is then performed by a specialized, automated instrument known as an inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometer, which can test down to a limit of about 0.007 ppm (parts per million). ConsumerLab has found that canned albacore ("white") tunas generally have mercury levels ranging from 0.2 to 0.4 ppm. Other types of tuna, like skipjack and yellowfin, tend to have lower levels, while mercury levels in canned salmon are lower still -- between 0.02 and 0.04 ppm.
Home tests are typically designed to measure mercury in a liquid, such as urine or saliva. Although some home tests claim they can be used to measure mercury in food, the process to do so can be complicated and time-consuming and could result in inaccurate results. For example, ConsumerLab contacted the maker of one such kit and found the instructions for testing canned tuna involves mixing a chunk of tuna with distilled water (which must be free of metals) and a source of acetic acid (such as white vinegar), heating the resulting liquid to a specific temperature, cooling it to a specific temperature, filtering it, and then repeating the filtering process several times before collecting the resulting liquid for testing. In addition, home tests vary widely in their sensitivity to mercury, with some strips only turning color with levels of at least 10 ppm — much higher than in any fish, although others claim to test down to a limit of 0.025 ppm or 0.1 ppm. Also, be aware that results from these home kits are typically shown as changes in color on a paper strip that correspond with a certain range of mercury detected, so interpreting the results will rely, to an extent, on one's sight and ability to distinguish color shades.
Question: To avoid mercury, I tried skipjack tuna instead of albacore, but I didn't like the taste. Is it safe to continue to eat albacore if just once a week?
Answer: ConsumerLab's tests of popular brands of canned tuna and salmon found that all five brands of albacore ("white" tuna) were contaminated with mercury to such an extent that you should limit intake to no more than one serving per week. Brands of skipjack tuna contained less mercury, although, one had a mercury level suggesting consumption not more than twice a week.
Yellowfin tunas contained the least mercury among the tunas; however, one had a fairly high amount of arsenic (as did most albacore tunas), suggesting that its use also be limited.
So, while it is safe for you to continue to eat albacore tuna once a week, there are some better tuna alternatives.
Before you settle back to eating albacore tuna, or any tuna, consider canned salmon -- particularly pink salmon, which is mild-flavored and light-colored, like albacore tuna. It is also more "heart healthy" than most tunas because pink salmon tends to provide greater amounts of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA than albacore tuna. Furthermore, the pink salmon brand we tested had the lowest amount of mercury and second lowest amount of arsenic of any of the tested canned tunas and salmons.
Although it may not appeal to your tastes, if you really want to boost your omega-3 intake, try sockeye ("red") salmon. The three sockeye salmons that we tested all provided very high amounts of omega-3's and low amounts of mercury and arsenic.
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Canned Tuna and Salmon
Initial Posting: 9/8/18 Last Update: 10/23/18
Best Canned Tuna and Salmon from CL's Tests
Avoid Mercury and Maximize EPA & DHA Omega-3s!
Canned tuna and canned salmon compared in report
Bumble Bee Solid White Albacore In Water
Kirkland [Costco] Wild Alaskan Pink Salmon
Vital Choice Albacore Solid White Albacore
Chicken Of The Sea Solid White Albacore Tuna In Water
Safe Catch Elite Solid Wild Tuna Steak
Vital Choice Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon
Deming's Red Sockeye Wild Alaska Salmon
StarKist Selects Solid Yellowfin in Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Wild Planet Albacore Wild Tuna
Genova Yellowfin In Extra Virgin Olive Oil With Sea Salt
Trader Joe's Chunk Light Skipjack In Water With Sea Salt
Wild Planet Skipjack Wild Tuna
Kirkland [Costco] Albacore Solid White in Water
Trader Joe's Sockeye Salmon
Make sure the canned fish you use provides the most EPA and DHA and is not contaminated!
Isn't your health worth it?
Canned tuna and salmon are convenient foods that help meet dietary recommendations for protein as well as for the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. But amounts of DHA and EPA in tuna and salmon can vary widely and products may contain concentrations of mercury and arsenic that should be avoided. Labels rarely provide this information, so ConsumerLab tested popular canned tuna and salmon.
DHA and EPA in a serving from each canned tuna or salmon ranged from just 45 mg to over 1,200 mg. Many did not provide the recommended average daily intake of 250 mg. In addition, two products contained significantly less DHA and EPA than claimed on their labels.
Just as concerning was half the products were contaminated with mercury and/or arsenic at levels suggesting they should not be eaten more than once or twice a week. This was common among albacore tunas, but also an issue with a skipjack tuna and a yellowfin tuna.
So which are the best choices for getting tuna and salmon in cans? ConsumerLab selected four products as Top Picks. Each provides a significant amount of DHA and EPA with minimal contamination and at a good price — as little as 60 to 80 cents per suggested serving, and sometimes half the cost of similar products.
You must be a member to get the full test results for 14 canned tunas and canned salmons along with ConsumerLab.com's recommendations.
In this comprehensive report, you'll discover:
How much EPA and DHA is in each tuna or salmon product
How much mercury and arsenic is in each product
The best canned tunas and the best canned salmons
The worst canned fish -- ones you should not eat more than once a week
How much canned fish you should eat as part of a healthful diet, and how this differs for children