Many people have an adverse reaction when eating shrimp. Some of these reactions are true shellfish allergies, that is to say the immune system is reacting to the actual food the person is consuming. But many, probably more, are not reacting to the shrimp but rather an additive called STPP. Sodium Tripolyphospate (aka sodium triphosphate aka tripolyphosphate) is a chemical used as a preservative and for moisture retention by fish farmers, especially those farming shrimp. Exposure can cause people to have eye, skin and respiratory irritation.
Reactions aside, there are two very compelling reasons not to eat shrimp treated with STPP. Sodium phosphates are present in many foods and medical evidence suggests over-consumption that consumption is ‘a strong predictor of mortality in advanced chronic kidney disease a strong predictor of mortality in advanced chronic kidney disease.’ The fact that it is an inorganic phosphate means it is absorbed and not easily purged by the body. Phosphates are also linked to osteoporosis, heart disease and IBD. Fish farms, which can be many acres, that use STPP introduce significant amounts of phosphorous to local aquatic environments Phosphates can accelerate alga blooms by a factor of 500, leading to destruction of habitats for fish and other marine life.
The EPA lists STPP as a registered pesticide and it is also registered as an air contaminant under California’s Occupational and Safety Health Act. It is suspected by US OSHA to be a neurotoxin that can cause internal inflammation for those those autoimmune diseases. STPP may cause acute skin irritation, and prolonged contact with skin should be avoided.
So why use it? STPP can increase the weight of shrimp by as much as 30%, which is why shrimp producers use it. The US imports more than a half billion tons of shrimp, almost all of it farm raised, and imports represent more than 85% of shrimp sales here. Traceability with imports is limited and fraud regarding seafood is common. There is no requirement to put STPP on labels and there is also no limit on dosage.
So many people end up with inflammation to eyes, skin and lungs. As previously stated, this is mistaken for a shrimp or shellfish allergy but it still prevents eaters from enjoying shrimp. The solution is to always choose wild caught shrimp and then make sure on the label that they do not use STPP or other preservatives. There are also organizations such as the Aquaculture Stewardship Council which promote sustainable production practices and accurate labeling.
With the right source, perhaps you or someone you know can enjoy shrimp again or for the very first time!