How to Buy Safe Salmon

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It’s tempting to write a post for this week about all the good and bad fish for you and for the environment, but I realize I need to save SOMEthing to write about for when this Super Foods series is over! UPDATE: At the bottom of this fish recipe is a good list of references for good and bad fish.
For today, I’ll give you the ways to find safe salmon and what to avoid. Be sure to read about the super health benefits of salmon first.

The basics of salmon

  • You DO NOT want farmed salmon, because
  1. the fish are eating unnatural foods like corn, which may also be genetically modified, and when fed fish (salmon are carnivores) they eat more fish than they ultimately feed you (bad for the ecosystem called earth, you included)
  2. fish may be treated with antibiotics (bad for everybody)
  3. the highly concentrated waste from fish farms pollutes the water (bad for the earth)
  4. they are tested high in cancer-causing PCBs and dioxin, and endocrine-disrupting (hormone) PBDEs, a flame retardant (bad for your health)
  5. the farms breed diseases that kill wild salmon (bad for the earth)

Therefore you want to buy only wild salmon, which is higher in Omega-3s anyway.

  1. All Atlantic salmon is farmed.
  2. All Alaskan salmon is wild.


Anyone feel like they’re in elementary Math class? If this, then this… Which salmon fits all the descriptions (and you can remember all this when you’re standing in the grocery store)?!

How to remember what salmon to buy

Tricky! Since “Atlantic” and “Alaskan” start with the same letter, I had trouble remembering which was evil and which was preferred at first. Here’s how I remembered it:

Fish farming is illegal in Alaska, so I imagine pristine waters in the far north supplying my safe-to-eat salmon, swimming free (because they’re wild). I don’t think about the other “A” word. Just think “Alaska = wilderness = good salmon” and “wild = natural = good salmon”. When Gov. Palin ran for office last fall, that helped me put a face to the pristine Alaskan legislation, and it actually helped me remember the good salmon!

I read this information everywhere…except here, where they tell us to “feel good about farmed salmon.” Poor Atlantic salmon farmers. No one is buying their product!

added bonusAdded Bonus:  Most (all?) canned salmon is “Wild Alaskan“, and it’s the least expensive salmon to buy, so that’s great news!!! (Click here for my salmon patties recipe with canned salmon.)

Sources:  World’s Healthiest Foods, Northwest Seafood, Real Food by Nina Planck, The Dinner Diaries by Betsy Block, and more.

Interesting quote

Research published by the Environmental Working Group (July 30, 2003) indicates that farmed salmon poses a cancer risk because it may be carrying high levels of carcinogenic chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs have been banned in the US for use in all but completely closed areas since 1979, but they persist in the environment and end up in animal fat. When farmed salmon from U.S. grocery stores was tested, the farmed salmon, which contains up to twice the fat of wild salmon, was found to contain 16 times the PCBs found in wild salmon, 4 times the levels in beef, and 3.4 times the levels found in other seafood. Other studies done in Canada, Ireland and Britain have produced similar findings. For more on the nutritional differences between wild and farmed raised salmon, please see our article on this topic.

from World’s Healthiest Foods

This post in entered in Food Renegade‘s Fight Back Fridays.

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33 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. says

    Good post! As a former Alaskan, I am a fish snob and only buy “local” (well, it used to be local! :) wild Alaskan salmon. Plus, I know several fishermen in Alaska personally whose livelihood depends on my eating their fish (even some friends from high school)! So I feel even better about that . . .

    Makes me want salmon salad for lunch. Yum!


    Sarah’s last blog post..Honey Sweetened Strawberry Freezer Preserves

  2. says

    We are big salmon eaters here. I have one daughter who will dance and sing when salmon is on the menu. For the most part, everyone in the family will eat fish if it’s salmon! My own love affair with it began as a 19-year old fighting a chinook to its place on my table from rod and reel off the coast of Astoria, Oregon to barbeque.

    I can rarely find Alaskan salmon in the southeastern US anymore, but can often find boat-flash-frozen wild Pacific salmon, an intermediate step between Alaskan and Atlantic (which I wouldn’t eat if you paid me.)

    Local Nourishment’s last blog post..Lung damage from nanoparticles

  3. says

    Nice post. Since I don’t get a similarly positive feeling about Governor Palin, I prefer to think of the good feelings that I have about the intrepid fisherman on The Deadliest Catch. They catch from the seas in Alaska, so the salmon in Alaska is from the seas. :)

    Jendeis’s last blog post..Cow Time

  4. says

    We eat wild Alaskan salmon at least once a week. When we used to live in Oregon, quite a few of our friends would regularly go salmon fishing and share their hauls. I miss those days!

    Thanks for submitting this in today’s Fight Back Fridays carnival.

    (AKA FoodRenegade)

    FoodRenegade’s last blog post..Fight Back Fridays June 12th

  5. says

    I didn’t eat any seafood for a long time based on fear of contamination. I changed that recently and have been eating salmon and shrimp about once per week. One of the things that helped me feel more comfortable eating seafood was finding a good place to get it from. I buy from Vital Choice and they supposedly test their salmon to ensure that it’s not contaminated. It’s expensive, but so far, I’ve been quite impressed.

    Vin – NaturalBias’s last blog post..The Acai Berry: Don’t Believe the Hype

  6. Katie says

    Thanks for the great post, you did a great job outlining all the drawbacks to farmed salmon. My dad is a commercial salmon fisherman here in Oregon and he also fishes in Alaska in the summertime. The commercial fishing industry is having a hard time competing with lower priced farmed salmon, so I am so happy to see that word is finally getting out that farmed salmon is full of hazards.

  7. Sonia says

    Pacific Salmon is wild too right? How does that differ from Alaskan salmon? Is one better than the other or about equal?

    • Katie says

      Pacific and Alaskan salmon are both generally safe. Alaskan seems to be the 100% sure bet, and pacific is usually…
      I saw “Norwegian” on a menu tonight and didn’t know what to think about that!

      :) Katie

          • Brooke says

            Farm raised salmon in Norway is on the same level as wild-caught Alaskan. They raise them in the ocean, and feed them what they’d normally eat. Plus, their standards of purity are much higher than in the US, so you can make sushi from it!

            • Katie says

              Thank you for that! I have seen other fish at grocery stores from Norway and kept wondering about the standard there. It seems most sources only address Atlantic vs. Pacific. So good to know! :) Katied

  8. Rachel says

    i know this is a relatively old post now, but i just found it, and wonder if anyone knows what to think about canned “Wild Caught Salmon” that says on the label (in fine print): product of Thailand, or product of China…?? i always avoid those brands and find the cans that say product of USA, just to be safe…

    • Katie says

      Good call! I agree that wild “Alaskan” salmon (any Alaskan salmon is wild) is the best. Those other countries might not have good standards for fisheries, very true. Thanks! :) Katie

  9. Jesilee (WEFA) says

    I just came across your site, but wanted to comment that I am so glad for your articles, especially this one! I live in a small fishing town in Alaska, but have not yet found a good article about it to send to friends and family, though I assumed farmed was bad. Now I know where to send them, and hopefully some good canned wild salmon recipes!

  10. says

    We have a really, really hard time finding safe fish! So we mostly resort to canned wild salmon. Fish is something that is so much more per pound than my budget that I usually ignore it, but it’s one of our personal “baby steps” to include more fish in our diet.

  11. Kit says

    I live in Oklahoma City. Does anyone know where or how I can order “good” salmon fast frozen, and shipped to me?

    Thank you

  12. Sarah says

    Hi, I’m late on this one, but I just wanted to say that I found canned Wild Alaskan Salmon at Aldi! Where I live (southeast Michigan), it was $2.29. I don’t know what it is at Trader Joes.

    They also sell wild caught frozen salmon filets for $4.49/lb. It’s good stuff. It’s from the Pacific…but China, so that’s probably not the best. Just thought I’d share though!

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      I’ve gotten it at Aldi too! Refreshing to actually have a real food option for cheap – although the cans are probably BPA lined, but you can’t have it all. :) Katie

  13. says

    Can you comment on canned vs frozen Alaskan salmon? I know that the canning process used for vegetables drastically reduces their nutritional benefit. What about the canning process used for fish?

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      Canned sure is a lot cheaper… 😉

      Canned meats/seafood do not lose nutrients at such a rate as vegetables. I don’t have statistics, but I’m going by the fact that canned meats still make many even conservative “healthy” lists, so I’d say it’s your preference if you want fresher to broil/fry or canned to make patties or whatever.
      :) Katie

  14. Amy D. says

    It is my personal opinion that all canned salmon is gross (tasting, that is…)! I now always get my salmon fresh (not previously frozen) and always try to stock up on the Coho when it goes on sale. I am running low, though…I hope they have another sale soon!

  15. iphi says

    I found the article really useful!!!

    My question is can a pregnant woman or children under five consume canned salmon?(that bpa lining can be avoided?)

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      There are brands w/o BPA (Costco, Wild Planet, Vital Choice). All I know about pregnant women and kids under five is what happens in our household, and that’s a big “yes we do.” But if you’re worried about safety, please consult a doctor. Thanks! :) Katie

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