Seafood is a nutrient rich food that is a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. In particular, seafood contains omega-3 fatty acids, which a significant amount of scientific evidence suggests may play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in many Western countries.
Like other perishable foods, foodborne illness caused by microorganisms or toxins is the primary food safety risk associated with seafood. Illness is usually associated with improper harvesting, handling, storage, or preparation. Seafood products that are often consumed raw, like oysters, have the highest risk. Other risks associated with environmental contaminants can be a concern for individuals, especially those who catch and eat their own fish or shellfish.
(Photo: Seafood dinner, Aileen Devlin/Virginia Sea Grant)
KEEPING IT CLEAN
Healthy seafood starts with a healthy environment. Sea Grant's research and extension work in the focus area of healthy coastal ecosystems helps promote safe seafood by reducing pollution and harmful algal blooms (HABs) that can shut down commercial and recreational fisheries. Sea Grant also communicates locations where seafood can be harvested safely and where closures are in place.
Delaware Sea Grant's volunteer Citizen Monitoring program is just one example of this work. Citizen scientists have been measuring Delaware's Inland Bays and tidal rivers for nutrients and harmful algae since 1991. Their extensive data collection has played a key role in the safe implementation of oyster aquaculture in the state.
(Photo: Volunteers monitor water quality, Delaware Sea Grant)
It's a process
The nation’s $60 billion seafood industry employs about 250,000 workers, and the U.S. is the third largest consumer of seafood in the world. To ensure seafood safety, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established strict regulations for handling seafood in 1997. These regulations required all seafood processors to undergo training in the principles of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP, pronounced HASS-ip).
Sea Grant programs around the country provide standardized HACCP training that help businesses comply with FDA requirements and stay in operation. These HACCP programs teach seafood processors, dealers, importers, and inspectors to identify potential biological, chemical, and physical food safety hazards and help them develop plans to control these hazards. This protects consumers by ensuring that all domestic and imported seafood products are processed in the safest manner possible. This training has also been used to design or renovate seafood processing plants to optimize sanitation and efficiency.
It's estimated that the HACCP program prevents between 20,000 and 60,000 seafood-related illnesses a year, translating into savings of about $155 million annually. Surveys show that businesses with HACCP-trained employees remain competitive globally and seafood quality has improved.
(Photo: Workers process crabs, Alaska Sea Grant)
ALL HANDS ON DECK
It's not just about making sure the seafood sold and consumed is safe - it's also about keeping the men and women who harvest it safe from harm as well. Commercial fishing is one of the most hazardous occupations in the United States with a fatality rate nearly 30 times higher than the national average.
Sea Grant staff like Washington Sea Grant Marine Operations Specialist Sarah Fisken, a former commercial fisher herself, provide expertise and work directly with the industry to save lives.
(Photo: Commercial fishers complete safety training, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium)