'Safe Catch' Tuna Boasts Low Mercury And High Sustainability

Safe Catch offers canned tuna with the lowest possible mercury thanks to their innovative testing methods. These efforts could also provide a way to discover and tackle what causes mercury contamination in our oceans.


May 17 2019, Updated 4:22 a.m. ET

Fish is a healthy addition to a balanced diet, but like everything else, the key is to consume everything in moderation. Eating too much fish, especially canned tuna, can create mercury buildup, causing symptoms such as muscle weaknesses, mood swings, and insomnia. Safe Catch has implemented a technology to keep mercury levels down in these foods, and they’re hoping to attack where the contamination is coming from.

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Sean Wittenberg is the man behind the development of easier, cheaper mercury testing. In the past, it would cost $30 to analyze a sample and multiple weeks to find out the contamination level. This wasn’t acceptable for Wittenberg, who had his mother suffer from mercury poisoning from canned tuna over a decade ago.

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He approached the FDA with a system that could test fish in a matter of seconds that was much cheaper than traditional methods. However, big canned tuna companies didn’t want to implement the testing structure. Since millions of dollars were invested into the new testing system, they decided to create their own canned tuna product, Safe Catch.

At the moment, the FDA has a mercury limit of 1.0 parts per million, but this isn’t strictly enforced. Testing is very limited in the industry, and Safe Catch’s results were alarming -- over 700,000 wild tuna they’ve tested had mercury two times higher than the regulated limit. After studying with health experts, Safe Catch has set their own limit at just 0.1 ppm.

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Not only does Safe Catch provide healthy portions of tuna, but they are also environmentally conscious of their packaging. All their products come in either cans or pouches. Cans are tin-free stainless steel and lined with organosol, which is BPA-free. Pouches are made from food-grade plastic with a layer of aluminium to keep things stable. There is no water, oil, or any other types of filler in the tuna to preserve it, and it can be eaten directly out of the package.

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Wittenberg also wants to tackle the source creating mercury. Fish that are highly contaminated from Safe Catch’s testing system, they will attempt to find out where it originated from. This includes where the fish traveled in the ocean and the location it was caught. By doing so, they hope to determine the facilities that cause the pollution -- especially in the fossil fuel industry.

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“The company is not just about providing pure seafood, but about protecting the purity in our oceans,” Wittenberg tells Fast Company. “Coal-fired power plants are the No. 1 culprit when it comes to adding mercury to our environment, and we’ve always wanted to figure out a way to help mitigate the impact of industrial pollution.”

Kids, pregnant women, and athletes are the most affected groups from mercury poisoning. By not packing fillers and testing each and every fish, Safe Catch hopes to provide the best possible experience when consuming tuna. Perhaps other companies can not only join the efforts of testing their fish, but to also eliminate the cause of it altogether.

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