Is Swai Fish Clean or Unclean?

Medically Reviewed on 12/22/2021
is it safe to eat swai fish?
Due to the inconsistent quality of Vietnamese-imported fish, such as swai fish, they are often considered “unclean” and raise a number of health concerns.

The swai fish (Basa) is native to Vietnam and mostly imported to the United States. It is quite popular as it is cheap, has a mild taste, and is versatile to cook.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued reports that highlight several health concerns when it comes to Vietnamese-imported fish such as swai, as they have the greatest number of health violations of imported seafood in the United States.

  • The meat of swai has been evaluated by the FDA, and many antibiotic agents such as nitrofuran, malachite green, and gentian violet have been detected in this fish in high quantities. These are not approved for use in the United States, as nitrofuran, malachite green, and gentian violet have been shown to cause cancer in animal studies.
  • Additionally, the antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones were also detected in swai fish. These are often used to prevent the growth of fungus, bacteria, and parasites in the seafood, but indiscriminate use of these may lead to antibiotic resistance in humans if consumed in food for the long term.
  • These fish are grown in unhygienic conditions and prone to diseases especially those caused by Escherichia coli bacteria known to cause diseases such as gastroenteritis, food poisoning, urinary tract infections, chorioamnionitis (infection of the fetal membranes), and sepsis in the susceptible human population.
  • These fish are bred in “fish factories,” where they are fed fishmeal made from small, wild fish, genetically modified organism (GMO) corn, and grains. The GMO content of the food may raise concerns in some people.
  • These fish are often bred in filthy waters, which may cause diseases such as hepatitis, amoebiasis, and salmonellosis in the human host.
  • There are concerns that polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, and pesticide residues present in the waters where the fish are bred may be present in the fish as well.
  • There is a growing concern over the mercury levels found in swai fish and other heavy metal residues, which may be detrimental to growing kids as well as adults.

What’s more, the swai is often mislabeled and sold as more expensive fish such as catfish, sole, grouper, and flounder in the market. These issues along with the consistent inability to meet the FDA health standards may be the reason swai fish is called “unclean” or “unhygienic.”

It is therefore critical that all purchases related to swai are made from official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) establishments. This can be quickly ascertained by looking for the USDA stamp, present on every package that comes from an inspected facility.

The USDA stamp lists the facility’s establishment number and guarantees that it fulfills all requirements. In addition, the USDA conducts a host of lab tests to identify what type of fish is being sold, so you are sure that you get your money’s worth.

What is the nutrient content of swai fish?

When compared to salmon, mackerel, trout, and halibut, the nutrient content of swai is underwhelming.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one four-ounce fillet of swai provides the following nutrition:

Table. The nutritional content of swai fish (4-oz fillet)
Nutrient Amount
Calories 70
Protein 15 g
Fat 1.5 g
Sodium 350 mg (varies)
Cholesterol 45 mg

The use of fats, sauces, oils, and grills may further affect the nutrient profile.

How does swai taste?

Swai fish has a neutral or mildly sweet taste. The fish has a flaky texture, and it goes well with sauces as well as vegetables in broiled, grilled forms, or fried after coating with breadcrumbs.

Can I have swai fish allergy?

Yes, it is possible. The symptoms of fish allergy include:

Anaphylaxis is a rare and potentially fatal reaction that can cause shock and death by severe inflammation down of airways.

Some allergists recommend that individuals with a fish allergy should avoid eating all fish; however, it may be possible for someone allergic to one type of fish to safely eat other kinds. If you are allergic to swai, your allergist may test to determine whether other varieties of seafood are safe to eat.

If you suffer from a fish allergy, avoid fish and fish products. Read food labels carefully. Treat symptoms of anaphylaxis with epinephrine (adrenaline). It is available as a pen, called EpiPen, which you must always keep handy.


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How often can you eat fish?

It is healthy to consume at least eight ounces of seafood in a week. Fatty fish contain long-chain omega-3 fats, proteins, vitamin D, and selenium along with low amounts of saturated fat, making them the healthiest choice when it comes to seafood.

Regular intake of fish or fish oil supplements is good for the heart and blood vessels unless you are allergic to these.

As per the American Heart Association, you must eat fish two times a week to lower your risk of heart disease and dementia and to keep your nerves healthy.

Should pregnant women consume fish?

Though it is healthy to consume fish (as long as they are safely sourced and prepared), it is better to exercise caution in pregnancy.

  • Pregnant women should avoid eating fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish (sometimes called golden bass or golden snapper) because they contain high levels of mercury.
  • The mercury is toxic to the nervous system in the developing fetus.

The healthiest approach for women who are or may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children is to eat two servings per week of fish or other seafood, which is known to be low in mercury content. Thus, they may consume up to one serving per week of fish such as white (albacore) canned tuna, shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

Check local advisories regarding the fish caught in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, they may eat up to six ounces (one average meal) per week of fish caught from local waters, but not consume any other fish during that week.

  • The potential high intake of mercury from the fish may damage the baby’s brain development.
  • But low intake of omega-3 fats due to lack of fish or fish oil is at least as dangerous. 

According to many studies, the visual recognition scores in six-month-old infants were the highest in those whose mothers ate at least two servings of fish a week during pregnancy but who also had low mercury levels.

If fresh fish is not an option, you may discuss with your healthcare provider and initiate fish o7il supplements for yourself during your pregnancy as well as lactation period.

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Medically Reviewed on 12/22/2021
Image Source: iStock Images