Tuna, like other marine fish, contain bones that are small and can even sometimes go unnoticed – but the question is, do they pose a threat to your health?
Does tuna contain bones? Is it dangerous? Packaged tuna sometimes contains small bones that are soft and don’t pose a threat. These bones may be left over during the manufacturing process as workers usually take out bigger bones and superficially trim off the smaller ones from the sides of the meat.
Read below to learn more about tuna bones, how to detect them, how to avoid them, and what to do if you accidentally swallowed them.
How is Tuna Manufactured?
The best way to understand why some bones end up in tuna is to go over the manufacturing process which is a combination of automated and manual systems.
The journey of tuna begins in the ocean where they are captured and stored onboard in large temperature-controlled containers. The containers then make their way to the factory where they are emptied and the process of packaging tuna begins!
The first step is entirely automated. As the tuna is offloaded from the containers, they are washed and inspected for damage by advanced industrial machines.
The washed and approved tuna are then sent off to a descaling station where workers manually remove the skin of the tuna before sending it forward.
Once the tuna has been descaled it then arrives at another station where butchers manually cut through the meat and remove the spine from the middle of the fish.
Now, it is important to understand that the spine is usually the only threat because it contains thick bones that can even pierce skin!
Don’t worry though, workers carefully remove the bone structure with just one quick cut since it runs across the fish and is usually found in one piece.
Once the large bones have been removed, the meat then heads to another station where butchers carefully scrape off the sides of the meat to remove any residual fish bones. These bones are difficult to remove because they are small and are usually connected to the meat.
If you remove too much of the bones, then you will eventually end up wasting the meat! This is why manufacturers scrape the superficial layer to remove any thick or large bones.
Once the meat is deboned and ready, it is then sent off to a packaging station where the meat is added to a can with brine to preserve the quality of the fish. The containers are then canned and ready to be shipped!
The smaller bones usually don’t pose any threat because they are softer compared to the larger and more rigid fish bones. Even if they end up in your mouth, they are not likely to cause any issues and in most cases, you will be able to eat them without any worry.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind before eating tuna bones!
Detecting Tuna Bones
Most people who love seafood will have a story about the time when a fishbone got caught in their throat – terrifying as it may be, it is quite common!
Bone-in fish meat is a popular choice among many but it poses the biggest risk! When fish bones end up in your throat, they can cause a lot of irritation and even mild to even severe pain.
Fish bones can nick or cause tears which can lead to irritation that can last for a couple of days.
When this happens, it is very natural to panic and most people develop a fear of eating fish with bones again, this is especially true if these types of incidents happen at an early age.
If you have had a bad reaction in the past, then it’s probably best to use a few best practices to detect the fish bones in tuna.
Keep in mind, that most tuna bones are safe to eat, and you are likely to not even notice them as you bite into the meat.
But if you do want to double-check the tuna meat for bones, then here is a quick guide:
Step 1: Remove the fish from the can and spread it out over a clean white plate.
Step 2: Look closely around the edges of the meat for bones. Most tuna meat is already pre-cut in the can so you might have to inspect each piece individually.
Step 3: Optionally, use a tweezer to remove the bones from the meat. You can also individually pick out the bones using your fingers.
Note: It isn’t necessary to remove all the bones from the meat, as that can take quite a lot of time. You should ideally aim to remove the majority of the bones because the leftover bones are not likely to pose any threat.
Avoiding Fish Bones
If you want to avoid getting tuna with fish bones, then you should go for premium or high-quality tuna.
Low-quality or cheap tuna is usually packaged by manufacturers that try to cut costs to bring down the price of their product. While this may be great for people looking for cheap tuna, if you dislike bones, then you should avoid cheaper brands as they are likely to use less stringent manufacturing processes.
Brands like this one are known for using top-notch processes with several quality checks that ensure that the tuna is free of bones, or at least comes closer to being entirely free!
You can also go for premium imported canned tuna, especially the ones from Asia, to not only get great-tasting tuna but also meat that is virtually free of bones.
Accidentally Swallowed a Bone?
As explained above, swallowing fish bones is very common and, in most cases, the bones will not cause any pain or long-term health effects. They will usually travel through your digestive system and will exit your body.
But if you do end up getting a bone stuck in your throat, then there are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Do Not Panic
The first step is to calm down. The more you freak out, the more likely it is to lodge the fishbone deeper. Just know that the fishbone will not affect your breathing and will not cause any harm. Once you realize this, it becomes infinitely easier to remove the fish bone.
The best way to remove the bone is to drink water and deeply gulp when you have the last sip. If the bone doesn’t get dislodged while drinking, gulping will stimulate the muscles at the back of your throat and likely release the fishbone.
2. Try to Spit out the Bone
Another way to remove the bone is to force the bone out of the throat by lightly expectorating – just like you would when removing phlegm from your throat. This motion will likely remove the fish bone from the back of the mouth and bring it to the front where you can pick it out.
3. Tears and Nicks
Fish bones, especially sharp ones are notorious for causing mild scratches and nicks around your throat. When this happens, it can be painful but if you can’t see the fish bone in your mouth then it’s safe to assume that it is already far down your food pipe.
In this case, do not panic and just gulp or drink some water to push the bone down into your stomach. Once there, the bone will likely be dissolved and passed through via stool. If there is irritation or if you continue to feel pain after 1-2 days then it is wise to see a doctor.
Sometimes a particularly sharp fishbone can cause tears in streaks which can take some time to heal completely. Although it isn’t threatening, it’s best to visit your primary health provider who can prescribe an over-the-counter pain medicine.
Tuna bones are usually harmless but can be a nuisance when they get stuck in your throat. The good news is that they can be removed fairly easily and don’t cause short-term or long-term damage.
Now that you know all about tuna bones, here are some related questions.
Can Stuck Tuna Bones Cause Damage if Children Swallow Them?
No, smaller tuna bones are usually not a big issue as they are soft and even flexible enough to pass through your throat fairly easily. But if your kid does get a bone stuck in their throat then the first step is to calm them down. Assure them that they are fine and then use the steps above to remove the fish bone.
Can Larger Tuna Bones Cause Damage to the Stomach?
Large tuna bones are rarely present in canned tuna as they are usually removed but if you opt for cheaper brands, then there is a chance that a few larger bones end up in the can due to poor screening processes.
When swallowed, large bones are not likely to cause damage and will usually pass through the digestive tract with ease. But if you do feel any symptoms, especially pain around your belly, then it is best to see a physician.