Let that sink in for a moment.
Creepy, eh? In a way, not really. Seattle Post-Intelligencer senior correspondent Andrew Schneider reports on glowing seafood that has turned up around the Seattle area, of late.
It sounds like a Halloween joke. A pile of brightly glowing cooked shrimp sitting on the counter in a darkened kitchen.
But Randall Peters doesn’t see the humor in it. He bought the shrimp last week from the West Seattle Thriftway. He ate some that evening and returned to the kitchen a few minutes later.
“It was like a bright eerie light was shining on it,” said Peters, who works for a natural food store.
“I thought that maybe it had been overirradiated, you know, too much radiation. Now, whenever I buy seafood, I take it home and turn out the lights.”
Mr. Peters is not alone. Schneider reports that a local woman named Barbara called in to tell the story of some shrimp she bought at the Wallingford QFC for her cats. The cats did not touch the treat, as she discovered while investigating the mysterious green-blue glow on her front porch. Checking in the refrigerator, Barbara found the bag of shrimp glowing brightly.
There are, at present, no reports of illness. Furthermore, Dr. Bill Robertson of Washington Poison Center told the P-I that he “wouldn’t hesitate to eat the stuff”. The WPC toxicologist said, “I don’t know of any studies that show it’s hazardous but, then again, I can’t envision anyone spending the money to do the costly tests to prove it’s safe”.
According to the FDA Seafood Product Research Center in Bothell, data on glowing seafood is sketchy. A spokeswoman explained to the P-I that the only research into luminescent bacteria in seafood began twenty years ago by an FDA microbiologist. Patricia Sado’s study, published in 1998, examined diverse reports of glowing seafood, and asserted that the luminescence came from the presence of certain bacteria. Glowing products included crabmeat, lobster, shrimp, herring, and sardines. In some cases, all researchers had left to work with were styrene trays or plastic wrappers.
Fresh, uncooked fish also were reported as glowing in the dark. A team of Environmental Protection Agency investigators evaluating the pollution of the Columbia River near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation were stopped by members of the Confederate Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon. They had 200 to 300 pounds of brightly glowing fish — whole King salmon they plan to use in a ceremony.
They were afraid to eat it because they believed the fish were radioactive, Sado reported. The analysis found the salmon — skin, intestine and gills — heavily contaminated with a bacteria called P. phosphoreum.
The reports the microbiologist collected listed only one death attributed to a bioluminescent seafood, and this was not from consumption of the bacteria but rather a 72-year-old man who cut himself while cleaning fish.
The ailments most often reported by Sado were headaches, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping and diarrhea — symptoms similar to most food poisonings. However, many of her case studies — like Peters and Barbara — reported no health problems.
The FDA scientist — now retired and living in the Seattle area — still retains her interest in bioluminescence.
“It is just fascinating to study,” she said in an interview this week. “But people who see their seafood glowing should not think they’re crazy nor that the aliens have landed. There are reasons backed by solid science.”
She believes the problems at the Seattle stores probably were the result of cross-contamination. Cooking the product kills the luminescent bacteria and pathogens,
“Boiling the shrimp would have killed the P. phosphoreum so the contamination probably happened after cooking,” she said. “Somewhere, either in the grocery that sold the product or the plant where the cooked shrimp were packed, contamination from uncooked seafood had to get on the shrimp. This could present a problem.”
In the meantime, a director for Ocean Beauty Seafood–who supplied the seafood to Thriftway and QFC–told the P-I, “We’re going back to the eastern Canadian company that supplied the shrimp to us to discuss the procedures that they use. That’s only common sense.”
Meanwhile the FDA is not investigating the current claims for lack of any formal complaint. Also, according to a spokeswoman, “it’s not a food safety issue because no one got sick.”
You know, my thing with shrimp has to do with texture. I cannot say that phosphorescence would encourage me to get over that aversion.