Seafood: Tinned Seafood
By Michelle Dudash, RDN
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 26 No. 1 P. 10

Discover Its Convenience and Healthful Qualities

While the tinned tuna and salmon consumers grew up with still has its place at the table, the tinned seafood category has expanded in recent years. From fine dining menus to a sleek canned seafood boutique in Times Square, New York, and the explosive growth of affordable all-in-one seafood meals that come in a can in supermarkets, consumers can enjoy the taste, convenience, and health benefits of tinned seafood. However, take note. “Tinned fish is a misnomer,” says David S. Smith, a packaging and food consultant based in Philadelphia. “Contrary to its name, a tin can made using modern processes contains no tin but is made of steel.” Therefore, in this article, Today’s Dietitian will use the terms “canned” and “tinned” interchangeably since they refer to the same thing, with the former used more commonly in the United States and the latter in the United Kingdom.

All this talk of cans is great news for health since the average American is falling short of consuming the USDA-recommended two servings or 8 oz of seafood per week. Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data from the USDA Economic Research Service suggest that the average amount of seafood consumed by Americans in 2014 was only 2.7 oz per week.

Home cooks can appreciate how canned seafood takes the guesswork out of preparing it because it’s precooked and usually preseasoned.

The home economics of canned seafood is appealing, too, compared with fresh and frozen seafood, coming in at a fraction of the cost. Plus, canned seafood is accessible. Consumers can stack cans of seafood in their pantry as a protein-packed meal or snack that lasts for years unopened and they can enjoy it anytime.

History of Canned Fish
Dating back two centuries, canning was invented by Frenchman Nicolas Appert in 1795 by using hermetically sealed, corked jars.1 In the 1820s, in France, Joseph Moulin applied Appert’s sterilization method to sardines using tin cans, which later became available on a larger scale. Soon after, the importation of canned seafood to the United States began, in addition to domestic production. Portugal would become the leading producer and exporter of canned sardines and other seafood by 1912, until, in 2022, Morocco emerged as the top exporter worldwide of canned sardines.2

The Tinned Fish Market
“Younger people are just now learning what their grandparents knew all along: canned fish is convenient, affordable, healthful, and actually pretty tasty,” says Jeremy Zavoral, brand marketing & Innovation director at Bumble Bee Seafoods in San Diego, California. “We can attribute some of the recent buzz to some viral TikTok videos of people enjoying a variety of canned seafoods.”

According to Circana market data, the shelf stable seafood category has sold $2.7 billion in the past year (ending September 10, 2023) in the United States, and Bumble Bee predicts its annual growth to continue to be 3% annually.

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Types of Tinned Seafood
It’s not just about the total quantity of seafood an individual should aim for but also the variety for a wider range of nutrients. All forms of shrimp and salmon, plus canned tuna, dominate, making up more than half the types of seafood consumed in the United States. However, don’t let clients limit themselves, as there are more convenient canned seafood options.

Here are some of the most popular ones that clients can find at most well-stocked grocery stores, ranked in order from most popular.

Canned Tuna: Most people are well-acquainted with chunk light tuna packed in water, which is typically used in classic bound tuna salad and tuna casserole. While the skipjack species often is used for this type of canned tuna, other varieties of canned tuna offer different tastes and textures.

• Solid (larger pieces) light yellowfin tuna is considered a more premium canned tuna product, with larger pieces.

• Solid and chunk (smaller pieces) white albacore tuna offers a firm, meaty texture and mild taste. Solid albacore or yellowfin tuna can be stirred into pastas, tucked into tacos or wraps, rolled into sushi, or served over Niçoise salad.

Salmon: If clients enjoy a stronger, richer taste, consider canned salmon. Pink and sockeye salmon varieties can be packed in oil or water and may be smoked before canning.

Reimagine canned salmon with crispy salmon patties in a cozy salmon chowder or as a protein-packed salad topper dressed in herbs and olive oil.

Sardines: Usually, you’ll find three or four of these small but mighty fish packed as intact fillets with edible skin. They may be smoked or packed in oil, tomato sauce, or other flavoring ingredients, making them a delicious snack enjoyed straight from the can.

Clams: With a meatier but lean and chewy texture, clams are a great addition to chowders, pastas, and seafood stews.

Oysters: Canned oysters can be used like fresh oysters. For a festive appetizer, place oysters in a muffin tin and sprinkle with parmesan, garlic, herbs, and a spot of butter. Or, simply enjoy it on a cracker with a dab of cocktail sauce.

Mackerel: With a firm texture, mackerel is great straight from the can or added to pasta or over salads.

Crabmeat: Crabmeat can be shaped into crab cakes and fritters or mixed into salads.

Anchovies: With their strong umami taste, a little anchovy goes a long way. Mince and fry with garlic as the base for pasta dishes or add to salad dressings. Rinsing anchovies first helps reduce the sodium.

Trout: Make a delicious dip with canned trout, cream cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, herbs, and seasonings.

Mussels: Add canned mussels to pasta or simply enjoy on a slice of bread.

Heavy Metals in Seafood
There have been concerns regarding mercury in seafood products, especially canned tuna, for women of child-bearing age. As stated in a 2023 Consumer Reports study, one in five cans of tuna, mostly albacore, were found to have individual spikes in mercury content large enough to warrant how often someone should eat that particular tuna. Larger, predatory fish, such as tuna, tend to accumulate higher mercury levels.

According to Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN, author of Eat Your Vitamins, “Canned fish may contain heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and cadmium.”

Davis points to the 2020 Consumer Lab report, “Best and Worst Tuna, Salmon, and Sardines,” that reviewed 20 canned fish products and found that albacore tunas generally were the most contaminated with mercury. “It also found that canned salmon contained the lowest amounts of mercury and arsenic, while canned sardines were low in mercury but very high in arsenic.” Davis warns, “This review didn’t test every type of canned fish, so it shouldn’t be taken as a definitive recommendation.”

Another resource to tap into is the Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector. “This tool shows how canned light tuna is a safer choice compared to canned albacore tuna, and that canned salmon was given a low mercury rating, making it another great choice,” Davis says.

The FDA and EPA also offer an easy-to-navigate one-page chart of the safest seafood choices for pregnant and breast-feeding women and children aged 1 to 11, based on mercury content. The most healthful choices on this list that are available canned include anchovies, Atlantic mackerel, clams, crab, oysters, sardines, shrimp, and trout.

Canned seafood brands offer varying levels of testing to ensure lower mercury levels. Safe Catch, for example, claims to have the lowest mercury levels of any brand, stating that every single tuna and salmon it processes is prescreened for mercury—and only one in four tuna pass the test. Consumer Reports notes that most of the other light or skipjack varieties were similarly low in mercury.

Sustainability of Canned Seafood
In recent years, the sustainability of seafood has been called into question.

“While there are challenges in the seafood sector related to sustainability, such as overfishing, pollution, and damage to wildlife habitats, there are several ways in which the consumption of canned fish can promote sustainability,” Davis says.

In aquaculture (farming in water), Davis says that seafood generally has a lower environmental impact than meat production, with 1 lb of feed producing close to 1 lb of weight gain.

According to Davis, “Canned fish consumption can play a role in promoting sustainability in the seafood sector, given its lower environmental impact, contribution to addressing food demand, and the adoption of sustainable practices by responsible companies.”

Scout and Fishwife are two brands Davis says are leaders in canned seafood sustainability. In addition to seafood’s general sustainability, steel cans are recyclable, meaning that the same steel can be recycled multiple times. “Steel cans are the most recycled packaging product in the world, with a recycle rate of 62%,” Smith says—making canned seafood a win-win in the sustainability department.

Canned Seafood Nutrition
The nutrient content of each canned seafood type varies, but their overarching nutritional benefits include lean protein, the essential omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, potassium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, and calcium. Red-hued seafood, such as salmon, crab, trout, and shrimp, contain astaxanthins, a type of carotenoid being studied for its potential positive effects against diseases.3

Counseling Tips for RDs
For clients who are hesitant to cook seafood, canned seafood offers a convenient precooked solution they can store at home and access anytime. Consider the following tips to help encourage clients:

• Don’t overthink it. Canned seafood can be enjoyed straight from the can or paired with crackers or toasts for a quick snack.

• Consider canned seafood that’s smoked or preflavored with lemon or tomato sauce.

• Try canned seafood meals, which are instant meal planners, like tuna salad with crackers and Wild Planet’s Ready-to-Eat Meals, which include beans, quinoa, and vegetables.

• Swap meat and poultry with canned seafood in favorite dishes.
Most importantly, just start. Simply trying one can of seafood per week will bring individuals closer to meeting the weekly seafood recommendations without breaking the bank or stealing valuable time from the day.

— Michelle Dudash, RDN, is a Cordon Bleu–certified chef, author of Clean Eating Kitchen: The Low-Carb Mediterranean Cookbook (Fair Winds Press, 2021), and creator of Spicekick® Seasoning Mix, a line of gluten-free, no-added-sugar seasoning mixes. Follow her at @michelledudash.


1. Dias JF, Guillotreau P. Nearly two centuries of fish canning: an historical look at European exports of canned fish. Paper presented at: International Institute of Fisheries Economics & Trade Conference; July 2004; Tokyo, Japan.

2. Zouiten S. Morocco, world’s leading exporter of canned sardines in 2022. Morocco World News website. Published January 30, 2023. Accessed October 30, 2023.

3. Ambati R, Moi PS, Ravi S. Astaxanthin: sources, extraction, stability, biological activities and its commercial applications—a review. Marine Drugs. 2014;12(1):128-152.