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Canned Tuna Review

A very large source of fish for Americans is canned tuna, a billion dollar annual market. Yet this product has undergone serious changes over the years, most of which are distasteful literally and figuratively.

Right now, in these hard economic times, the change that is most galling is the sleazy reduction in weight from 6 ounces to 5 ounces for the most common size product. That equates to a 17 percent reduction in weight, that few consumers probably have noticed in the past few months. Indeed, you may still find older cans that have 6 ounces, as I did recently. Of course, prices were not reduced. Indeed, you may be paying more for the smaller cans unless you are a smart shopper looking for good sales.

Food companies found long ago that increasing prices would be noticed, while reducing the weight of products while keep the packaging looking the same would deceive customers and prevent cut backs in purchases. But there is a lot more to the canned tuna story.

Many people have noticed an even more serious and fishy deception. A big difference among canned tuna products is solid versus chunk versions. About three-quarters of consumption are the lower cost chunk varieties. I am only referring to tuna in water types of canned tuna, not the far less popular tuna in oil variations. What has changed over time is that the lower priced chunk versions no longer contain small pieces in the liquid. Rather than chunks, they contain what can charitably be described as mush or slush. So continued use of the word chunk is a total deception. Indeed, when you drain chunk tuna now you can see small particles of tuna in the liquid, meaning you are losing some tuna. Rather than call this stuff chunk tuna it should be called shredded tuna.

Wait; there is more to this story. Many people have also started to notice that the more expensive solid versions, that used to be one solid piece, actually resemble the older chunk versions. Some major brands also sell some sort of expensive premium canned tuna that are we used to get in the solid versions.

Wait. There is more bad news. The amount of liquid in the cans is far from trivial. If you believe what the fine print on the labels of the major brands says, then there is one ounce of liquid. So, the industry has gone from 5 ounces to 4 ounces of actual tuna. That equates to a 20 percent reduction in actual tuna, a big reduction if the price remains the same or is increased. Wait. A number of people on various web forums have reported that they have weighed the amounts of tuna and liquid and found that the liquid content is more like 2 ounces! Indeed, that is more consistent with my observations for current chunk tuna versions.

And what is that liquid in the cans? More and more consumers have started to notice that it is not just water, which is suggested by the labeling. On most cans there is some statement saying that there is also soy in the cans, which apparently comes from the use of vegetable broth in addition to water, which is stated in the fine print.

A most common consumer appraisal that I fully agree with is that store house brands of canned tuna are consistently better than the big popular brand names Bumble Bee, StarKist and Chicken of the Sea. The consensus is that, for example, the Costco Kirkland, Walmart and Safeway house canned tuna versions are much better quality and lower cost than the more familiar big brands. You are also more likely to still find the larger 6 ounce cans in the house versions.

By now many people have become aware that there is a small amount of mercury in canned tuna, particularly in the higher cost solid types. But the general consensus is that a person would have to ear an awful lot of canned tuna to be at risk. On the other hand, one benefit from eating canned tuna is the omega-3 oil that definitely promotes good health.

If you are using canned tuna for making salads, then the lower cost chunk versions can be a cost-effective option, but for other uses, like tuna and pasta, you definitely must use the solid types. Chunk versions should never cost more than $1 and if you look for sales you can get solid types for about $1. Overall, canned tuna is a healthy food and good source of protein, but we consumers are definitely not being treated with honesty and respect.

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Joel S. Hirschhorn has succeeded as: a full professor, University of Wisconsin, Madison; a senior staffer, U.S. Congress (Office of Technology Assessment); head of an environmental consulting company; Director of Environment, Energy and Natural Resources, National Governors Association; now an author and consultant. Recent books are: Sprawl Kills - How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health and Money, and Delusional Democracy - Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. He has published hundreds of articles in newspapers, magazines, journals and on many web magazine sites. He has given hundreds of talks at a wide range of conferences worldwide. He focuses on American culture, politics and government, and health issues.