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Food Poisoning Health Center

Salmon and Beef: What's Safe to Eat?

Here's a look at the science behind the scares
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The Salmon Scare continued...

The American Heart Association maintains that eating two servings a week of oily fish (like salmon) can help healthy adults ward off sudden cardiac death, thanks to the protective effects of omega-3 fatty acids. The best source of these omega-3 fatty acids is farmed salmon, though they're also found in flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans, and oils made from these products.

Many longstanding studies have documented the health benefits of a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and their role in guarding against heart disease. More recent studies have indicated that omega-3s may even help keep your mind agile and protect against Alzheimer's disease. And salmon, like other fish, is an excellent, low-fat source of protein that many people enjoy eating.

What can we conclude from this? It's a decision each of us needs to evaluate personally, of course. But for most healthy adults, the health benefits of salmon far outweigh the much smaller and less-clear risk that the PCBs found in it could cause cancer. (Children and pregnant or nursing women may be at increased risk of exposure to contaminants and should check with their doctors for advice on eating all kinds of fish.)

Let's put the issue into perspective. The leading cause of death in the U.S. -- causing 950,000 deaths a year -- is cardiovascular disease. Eating two meals per week of fatty fish, such as salmon, can reduce the risk of fatal heart disease by 40%. The dangers of eating salmon, meanwhile, are unclear, largely theoretical, and based on studies in animals. The risks would appear to be much smaller than that of developing heart disease.

If you are concerned about PCBs, remove the skin and dark flesh from your salmon, and cook it so that the fat drips off -- thus reducing PCBs by 20%-30%.

How Safe Is Our Beef Supply?

Because we eat so much beef in the U.S., it's especially important that we be confident of its safety. The CDC says that the risk of a consumer in this country contracting the human form of mad cow disease is "extremely small." In testimony presented to the Senate, CDC Director Julie Gerberding said U.S. authorities had taken adequate steps to reduce the risk.

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