Americans love us some shrimp, whether it’s tossed into a stir-fry at your local Chinese take-out joint, purchased in bulk at Trader Joe’s, or battered and fried at Red Lobster. Each of us eats, on average, almost four pounds of shrimp per year, according to a study by Consumer Reports—and that’s about three times more shrimp than we ate 35 years ago. To satiate our increasing appetite for shrimp, America imports 94% of our shrimp from abroad.

Here’s another intriguing finding from the study: 60% of the raw shrimp tested by Consumer Reports tested positive for bacteria. The researchers also found illegal antibiotic residue on 11 samples.


Consumer Reports bought 342 packages of frozen shrimp (284 raw and 58 cooked samples) at large chain supermarkets, “big-box” stores, and “natural” food stores in 27 U.S. cities. CR explains, “We didn’t include fresh, never-frozen shrimp because they account for only a small percentage of the shrimp that consumers buy.” The researchers tested for bacteria that could potentially make you sick—such as salmonella, vibrio, staphylococcus aureus, and E. coli.

Here’s CR’s breakdown of the percent of shrimp in each country that tested positive for bacteria:

Chart: Consumer Reports

Yes, most of that bacteria would likely be killed during the cooking process. But, still, that’s just gross.

Consumer Reports explains the obvious downside to our love affair with shrimp,

Most of the shrimp we import is “farmed”—grown in huge industrial tanks or shallow, man-made ponds that can stretch for acres. In some cases 150 shrimp can occupy a single square meter (roughly the size of a 60-inch flat-screen television) where they’re fed commercial pellets, sometimes containing antibiotics to ward off disease. If ponds aren’t carefully managed, a sludge of fecal matter, chemicals, and excess food can build up and decay. Wastewater can be periodically discharged into nearby waterways. “Bacteria and algae can begin to grow and disease can set in, prompting farmers to use drugs and other chemicals that can remain on the shrimp and seep into the surrounding environment,” says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center.

Those concerning shrimp-farming practices aren’t just bad for consumers—CR highlights the “environmental damage that can be caused by farming them that way.” So, what can you do as a consumer if you still want to eat shrimp, but don’t want to eat fecal matter, antibiotics, and chemicals?

Here are the shrimp labels you can trust, and the Consumer Reports guide to choosing the healthiest, tastiest, and most responsibly sourced shrimp.

[via Consumer Reports, Quartz]