But startup Safe Catch has found a way to ensure its canned tuna is pure and safe to eat, and in doing so is bringing back to the category consumers who left for fear of mercury.
“Tuna really is a nutritional superstar – it’s rich in omega-3 and rich in all the essential amino acids and is one of the best sources of protein,” Sean Wittenberg, president and co-founder of Safe Catch told FoodNavigator-USA. “The only caveat that people have to deal with in the tuna space as far as health and wellness goes is the potential that the fish could have higher levels of mercury in it.”
He explained the risk is real and can be unpredictable with fish in the same school varying upwards of 25 times the concentration of mercury from one to another.
“Because of that variance, health professionals felt obligated to make a warning to potential people who could be subject to exposure of this mercury. So, pregnant women and small children are being warned by OB-GYNs, prenatal specialists and pediatricians to limit or avoid canned tuna because they could be high in mercury,” he said.
Since these warnings first began in 2004, canned tuna consumption in the US has declined 30% per capita, household penetration has dropped from nine out of 10 to six out of 10 today and tuna has fallen from the most popular seafood choice in the US to third place, he said.
To reassure consumers and bring them back to the canned tuna category, Safe Catch launched in 20014 with a goal of producing low mercury tuna that his highly nutritious by carefully sourcing fish and using a unique processing system, Wittenberg said.
“At Safe Catch, we look for three criteria before we source fish. It has to be of the highest conventional quality standards. We are looking for all the sensory stuff and normal stuff you see for identifying high-quality tuna. It also needs to be sustainable,” and finally it needs to meet the company’s high standards for low mercury concentration, he said.
For the Safe Catch Elite product, each fish is tested for a mercury concentration limit that is 10 times stricter than the FDA, Wittenberg said.
“By exceeding that standard, we are the first company that can meet Consumer Reports mercury standard set for more vulnerable consumers, like pregnant women and small children,” he said.
Preserving natural nutrients
Safe Catch also ensures its canned tuna meets high nutritional standards so that consumers looking for a high dose of omega-3s and nutrients aren’t disappointed, Wittenberg said.
“Our tuna is hand cut and packed in a BPA-free can and it includes in the can a sushi grade raw tuna steak that meets all three of our criteria. We then seal it raw and we cook the fish in its own natural juices without adding any water or oil,” he explained.
This allows the company to retain all the benefits of tuna and “bring out the best of that tuna, honor the product and really connect the consumer to something really great,” he added.
Some competitors pre-cook tuna prior to packing it, and in the process end up draining the liquids “so a lot of great nutritional benefits get lost,” Wittenberg said.
Expanding the category
Since launching last June, Safe Catch has entered about 2,000 retail stores, which are seeing consumers return to the category, Wittenberg said.
He notes that the company emphasizes to buyers that stocking Safe Catch “is not an opportunity to steal share within the category, but could bring back those third of households that left,” Wittenberg said.
He added: “We want to grow the category so that people eat more seafood and people can live healthier, happier lives and that’s kind of the culture that our company is trying to bring to bear.”