Can the Tuna in Food Drive Donations

By November 10, 2010Got Mercury?

Donations of food are being collected across the nation through food drives for families in need.  Canned tuna is a common item being donated by well meaning donors who may not be aware of the hidden mercury hazard in canned tuna.

For women of child bearing age, pregnant and nursing women and children, eating more than one or two servings a week of canned tuna, especially albacore tuna could be harmful to their health according to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“ recommends food donors give alternative protein sources such as canned beans or even canned chicken”, said Buffy Martin Tarbox of, a public health project based in California.  “Tuna can be harmful to women and children and considering the detrimental health problems mercury can cause, it is best that canned tuna not be donated at all.”

Albacore, or “white” tuna contains more mercury than “light” tuna, but a recent study found over one-third of mercury exposure in the American diet comes from eating tuna of all kinds, putting women and children at a higher risk for health problems associated with mercury.

According to the calculator, a woman who weighs 140 pounds and eats a six-ounce portion of canned albacore tuna will be exposed to a mercury level that is 35 percent above government exposure guidelines.  A 60-pound child who eats a six-ounce portion of canned albacore tuna would be 215 percent over government exposure levels.

The calculator is available at and for mobile phones with web browser capability at

Mercury contamination of seafood is a widespread public health problem, especially for women of childbearing age, pregnant and nursing women and children.  Mercury ingestion can lead to memory loss, developmental and learning disorders, vision loss, heart disease and, in extreme cases, can result in death.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that 15 percent of babies born in the United States each year have dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies due to their mother’s consumption of fish.

A study conducted by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas found more than half of canned tuna samples from grocery stores failed to meet government safety levels for mercury in fish.

Currently there are no federal legal requirements to warn people about mercury in fish. has been seeking action from policy makers and the FDA to mandate mercury in fish warning signs at grocery stores and restaurants but government has been slow to act.

About works to protect people and the environment from mercury.  Because of the ubiquitous nature of mercury in the environment and because federal and state public health agencies are not doing enough to raise public awareness and protect the public from mercury, developed the free online mercury-in-fish calculators that have received millions of hits since 2002.  For cellular phone users, the calculator is available at