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The 1 thing you must avoid when you buy or order shrimp

Adriana Velez is Food Editor for SheKnows. She spent her formative years in Brooklyn, which pretty much explains everything about her. She now lives somewhere else and has discovered life after kale and kombucha. She's written for Civil ...

An exposé has revealed the dark side of shrimp, but you can make a better choice

You want to order that shrimp special, and we can't blame you. Succulent and tender, it's a scrumptious treat no matter what the cuisine. But a new story about the dark side of shrimp could take the joy out of eating it.

An AP News investigation has pulled the curtain on the shocking labor practices behind the shrimp industry in Thailand: indentured workers peeling and beheading mountains of the crustaceans, their hands in ice water for 16 hours a day. Many of these slave workers are pregnant women and children.

If you think that cheap shrimp deal is too good to be true, if you're astonished by the piles of shrimp at the all-you-can-eat buffet, then know that this cheap seafood comes at a price, and most likely someone else is paying that price.

More: The salmon you're buying could be mislabeled — here's what you need to know

According to the AP News report, shrimp from the abusive conditions it exposed have found their way into Walmart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Dollar General and Petco, and into Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants. The shrimp is in canned goods from major brands, including Chicken of the Sea and Fancy Feast.

Olive Garden and Red Lobster have told Eater that they have not received shrimp from slave labor, but their supplier couldn't confirm this. In the meantime, they and other businesses have vowed to do their own investigations and make sure they no longer support this abuse.

That's super, but this is a complicated problem. Shrimp from slave labor can get mixed in with shrimp from other sources before it makes its way to the U.S., making it difficult for restaurants and stores here to know exactly where their shrimp came from. And while the one Thai operation AP News reported on has shut down, it isn't the only company running on slave labor.

More: A guide to sustainable seafood

So what can you do if you want to eat shrimp with a clear conscience? Your best option is to buy North American-caught shrimp (including Canadian).

  • Always find out the origin of your shrimp before you buy or order. Be that pesky person who asks questions.
  • Check out the American Shrimp Processors Association website, which has a database showing where you can find wild, American-caught shrimp in your area.
  • Look for certification labels such as Wild American Shrimp, Maine Stewardship Council, Aquaculture Certification Council and Best Aquaculture Practices.
  • Eat less shrimp. One reason slave labor exists in the shrimp industry is that demand is overwhelming. Americans eat 1.3 billion pounds of it a year. When I was growing up, shrimp was a special-occasion food, not a daily entitlement. Maybe don't eat so much of it, you know?

Unlike the enslaved shrimp workers, we actually have choices. Why not make the more delicious, life-affirming choice?

More: The dos and don'ts of canned seafood

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