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UC Santa Cruz Tuna Study Spearheads Changes In Dining Halls

Nick Gonzales, UCSC
Tuna served in the dining halls at UC Santa Cruz now has signs above it warning students about methylmercury exposure.


UC Santa Cruz is warning students about the dangers of eating too much tuna following a university study.  The study started with one professor, Myra Finkelstein, questioning her students’ tuna-rich diets. Tuna consumption among her students became a concern when she found out how much they claimed to be eating every week.

“It’s not that they shouldn’t eat it ever, but they should just be mindful. We had some students who reported that they were eating it 20 times a week,” Finkelstein said. 

That inspired her and UCSC graduate student Yasuhiko Murata to conduct surveys and test hair samples of over 100 students. They were looking for high levels of methylmercury, a toxin found in tuna and other fish. What they found was that toxin levels for students eating large amounts of tuna exceeded what the Environmental Protection Agency deems safe.This worried Finkelstein; she says in extreme cases, methylmercury exposure can lead to tremors, memory problems and other issues. 

“You can get paralysis. I mean if you eat too much it will, you know, it can kill you. But one of the big concerns is that it’s a very dangerous reproductive toxin,” Finkelstein said. 

According to the study, most fish contain mercury, but larger species of tuna can accumulate relatively high levels of the toxin. Tuna that contains lower mercury levels include skipjack or tongol tuna (usually labeled ‘chunk light’). Tuna with higher levels of mercury includes albacore and yellowfin tuna. 

Their research concluded that in order to stay within the EPA’s guidelines, a person averaging 140 pounds could eat up to two meals of tuna per week of lower-mercury tuna and one meal per week of higher-mercury tuna. 


In response to the study, the university put up signs warning students about eating too much tuna in each of the dining halls. The dining program is also considering lowering the amount of tuna they serve per week.

William Prime, the Executive Director of Dining, felt the study was educational and he was eager to make necessary changes to spread more information about the impacts of eating too much tuna. 

“It wasn’t an attack on my program, or the dining program. It was research to help us educate our customers and our community and if that message spreads further, all the better,” Prime said. 

Prime plans to discuss the tuna study with other university kitchens in hopes that they’ll also put up warning signs. The UC Santa Cruz study was published in June in Environmental Toxicolgy and Chemisty.