Seafood Safety in California
- "The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease
Control agree, based on estimates of acute disease occurrences, not just
those reported, that on a per-weight-consumed basis, fish is by far the
safest source of muscle protein available."
- Frank E. Young, MD, Ph.D., Commissioner
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration
- June 5, 1989 testimony before Congress
Dr. Young's 1989 testimony holds true today in California, as the State
takes a lead role in seafood safety. California's fishing industry is routinely
monitored, inspected, and regulated by numerous state and federal agencies
to insure that seafood is wholesome and safe to eat.
- Agencies responsible for monitoring the environment, regulating industry,
or both, include:
- California Department of Health Services (CDHS),
- Department of Fish and Game,
- California Environmental Protection Agency,
- Water Quality Control Board,
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and
- National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a branch of the U.S. Department
- Mussel Watch Program
California's Mussel Watch program has operated since 1977 under
the authority of the
California Water Control Board. Tests are performed under contract with
the Department of Fish and Game. Designed to measure inorganic contaminants
in coastal waters, the basic Mussel Watch procedure samples mussels at
150 stations statewide each January, testing for inorganic toxins. Routine
tests are conducted for more than 50 different chemicals, including toxic
heavy metals, chlorinated pesticides, and hydrocarbons. In addition to
routine testing, special studies are conducted at specific sites, such
as the Diablo nuclear power plant.
- Shellfish Sanitation Program
The Environmental Management Branch of CDHS certifies
and regulates shellfish growing areas according to standards mandated by
the National Shellfish Sanitation Program. All harvesters and growers of
bivalve shellfish (e.g. oysters, clams, mussels) must obtain a certificate
from the CDHS prior to harvest.
The Environmental Management Branch monitors state
waters, testing for the presence of biotoxins occasionally found in natural
"blooms" of marine algae. Biotoxins assimilated in bivalve shellfish
can cause illness such as paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). Domoic acid,
a toxin identified on the west coast for the first time in 1991, can cause
amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP).
- California's six commercial shellfish growing areas are tested weekly
for marine biotoxins.
- A total of 24 other sampling stations statewide are tested for biotoxins
up to 18 times each year.
- California officials, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the
U.S. Department of Commerce are developing an expanded, coordinated plan
to address natural toxins in seafood. California fishermen are cooperating
with state and federal officials to expand knowledge of marine biotoxins
and their effects on California's seafood supply.
California's Department of Health Services, Food and Drug Branch, regulates
seafood processors and has primary responsibility for seafood safety in
- The Food and Drug Branch requires mandatory registration of all California
seafood processors and conducts a mandatory inspection annually for sanitation,
packaging, proper temperature control procedures, and other public health
concerns. A similar mandatory inspection is required at the retail level,
with inspections performed by county health department inspectors at least
annually, and often several times throughout the year.
- CDHS validates Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) programs
(identifying and controlling critical processing and handling points) and
works closely with the voluntary federal inspection program established
by the FDA and NMFS, in which California seafood processors, wholesalers,
and retailers participate. These seafood handlers contract with the program
for sanitation and actual product inspection at their own expense.
- CDHS maintains strict requirements for California food-processing canneries,
including mandatory licensing and inspection of all cooking processes.
Each lot must be inspected and tested for size, water content, time and
temperature, and can condition, insuring against leakage, before the lot
receives approval for sale. No case of botulism has been reported from
California's commercial cannery pack for several decades (since the mid-1950's).
In addition to state regulations, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration
also inspects California processors and wholesalers twice a year. Federal
law required all processors and wholesalers to implement a HACCP plan for
their operations by December 18, 1997. (For more information on HACCP, refer
to the section HACCP in Brief.)
The California Seafood Council supports a national
HACCP program for seafood.
California Seafood Council members are working with the National Fisheries
Institute (a non-profit trade association representing the U.S. seafood
industry) and regulatory agencies to implement and improve a national HACCP
program for seafood.
Sport or Recreational Fishing... What the Experts
According to the report Seafood Safety, National Academy Press
1991, which reviewed seafood-borne illness reported by the Centers for
Disease Control in the 10-year period 1978-1987:
- "One-fifth of the fish and shellfish eaten in the United States
is derived from recreational or subsistence fishing, and these products
are not subject to health-based control; there is need to improve protection
for consumers by regulating (recreational) harvest and by education "
- Also according to Seafood Safety, consumers of recreational
fishery products are the second largest constituency at risk of suffering
seafood-borne illness. (Those who eat raw molluscan shellfish are at the
For More Information on Seafood Safety
Issues in California:
California Department of Health Services, Food and Drug Branch
Chief - Stuart Richardson : (916) 445-2264
CDHS, Environmental Management Branch
Greg Langlois (PSP program) : (510) 540-3423
CDHS Shellfish Information Line : (510) 540-2605
NMFS Western Inspection Branch
Chief - Glenn Kiel : (213) 526-7412
Department of Commerce
Lou Kissel (voluntary inspection) : (301) 713-2355
National Fisheries Institute
Bob Collette (Western region) : (703) 524-8882
California Fisheries and Seafood Institute
Jane Townsend : (916) 441-5560
West Coast Seafood Processors Association
Rod Moore : (503) 227-5076
California Sea Grant - UC Davis Food Science Department
Dr. Robert Price : (916) 752-2194
Office of Seafood
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Reflecting consumers' growing interest in seafood, the U.S. FDA established
its Office of Seafood in March 1991 to strengthen the agency's domestic
and imported seafood programs. Seafood has the distinction of being the
only food overseen by the FDA accorded its own office, and at the time of
its establishment, Dr. David Kessler, FDA Commissioner, indicated that seafood
is to be the litmus test for food safety standards in the United States.
Responsibilities of the office include:
- overseeing seafood inspection programs;
- researching and testing methods to detect and evaluate the effects
of contaminants in fish;
- administering the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, which works
to maintain safety of shellfish;
- participating in programs to increase industry awareness of FDA seafood
regulations and enforcement;
- overseeing development of seafood safety inspection programs for inspectors.
In 1991, the FDA initiated a special inspection of the nation's seafood
processing plants and other seafood establishments and launched a new inspection
program, in cooperation with the National Marine Fisheries Service, applying
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) methods to identify and control
critical processing points. California processors participated in the voluntary
inspection program established by the FDA and NMFS.
H.A.C.C.P. in Brief
The Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (Hass-ip) program is a state-of-the-art
food safety program originally developed for astronauts to ensure safe food
in space. A HACCP program identifies critical control points during a processing
or handling operation for a food where a hazard, such as cross contamination,
might be introduced. Critical control points could include:
- the point of receipt,
- the thermal processing stage of the canning process,
- cook and post-cook stages of preparation processes,
- final packaging or storage conditions.
HACCP mandates that seafood handlers identify key stages in seafood processing
and handling where problems might occur. Companies are required to develop
a monitoring system at these "critical control points" to safeguard
against potential problems. The goal of the program -- and the motto of
California's seafood industry -- is "keep it cold, keep it clean, and
keep it moving." As part of the HACCP program, seafood processors are
required to keep detailed monitoring records of their procedures for review
by state and federal inspectors. Companies must also practice strict sanitation
standards and maintain monitoring records, both on facility cleanliness
and worker hygiene.
HACCP-based programs are now being considered for other foods, including
meat and poultry.
For a "Then and Now" perspective on seafood inspection,
visit the National Fishery Institute (NFI) website at www.nfi.org.
In addition to inspecting domestic seafood handlers, the Office of Seafood
established a new import strategy that includes closer cooperation with
state and local agencies to identify imports that reach the retail market;
initiation of civil and criminal actions against importers who violate FDA
regulations; short-term targeted inspection surveys of specific product
categories; and education.
- In October 1992, the FDA began a toll-free Seafood Hotline for
consumers. The hotline was created to answer questions about seafood, such
as buying, handling, and storage for home consumption.
The hotline number - 800 FDA 4010 - may be used in all 50 states
and Puerto Rico, except in the Washington DC metropolitan area, where the
number is (202) 205-4314.
FDA seafood specialists are available between the hours of 10 AM and
2 PM Eastern time, Monday through Friday, to answer specific questions.
However, the Hotline is available 24 hours a day through a computerized
information retrieval system accessed with touchtone telephone. Callers
may request FDA publications, listen to pre-recorded seafood safety messages,
and gain access to other information.
- In March 1993, FDA Commissioner David Kessler, MD announced FDA plans
to implement a mandatory HACCP quality control program throughout the seafood
- All U.S. Seafood Processors were required to have HACCP plans in place
by December 18, 1997.
California's commercial fishermen are conservationists who proactively
support the protection of water quality and marine habitat to insure the
long-term viability of the fishing industry. One of the clearly-stated goals
of the California Seafood Council is to safeguard the consumer supply of
Industry policies and CSC programs include:
Fishermen's Oil Response
Fishermen's Oil Response programs have organized a network of commercial
fishermen to assist in oil-spill clean-up. Modeled after the Fishermen's
Oil Response Team (FORT) established by Ventura County commercial fishermen,
the program trains fishermen to handle clean-up equipment. Names of trained
fishermen and their vessel capabilities are then compiled in a computerized
database, on call in emergency. The FORT program has trained and registered
more than 100 fishermen from the Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Morro Bay areas.
The program has expanded to encompass major ports along the northern California
coast as well.
Oil spill workshops are conducted by oil industry clean-up cooperatives
stationed along the coast, and the fishermen's oil response team is mobilized
by a coordinator and works under the direction of the cooperative during
a spill. The FORT team has been called to action several times in the past
few years to combat oil spills or leakages. Commercial fishermen have provided
invaluable assistance in the clean-up of oil spills. Currently, three fishermen's
oil response networks have been organized in different areas of California.
More groups are planned.
Fishermen Involved In Saving
F.I.S.H. is a national coalition of fishing groups, fish-related business
enterprises, scientists, and environmental groups whose goal is to establish
national policies and priorities to protect, conserve, enhance, and restore
the quality and diversity of aquatic ecosystems essential to fish. Founded
in 1988, the F.I.S.H. coalition is a non-profit association directed by
a six-person executive committee. Local, regional, and international F.I.S.H.
chapters have formed. A habitat education program stressing the importance
of protecting wetlands and water quality are among the activities advocated
by this coalition.