The National Fisheries Institute (NFI) has asked the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to cooperate on a pilot program to further enhance the safety of imported seafood. Nearly 80 percent of seafood is imported, and although a mandatory HACCP inspection program already addresses seafood safety, FDA and U.S. seafood importers want to further augment safety through cooperation with overseas producers.
The proposed program includes mechanisms for verifying HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) measures used by foreign processing plants. HACCP, implemented by FDA at the request of the seafood industry in 1998, requires processors to identify points in the production process at which problems may occur, and then institute controls to prevent such problems. U.S. processors are required to maintain extensive documentation of HACCP safety procedures, which is regularly reviewed by FDA. Originally developed to ensure food safety in the space program, HACCP is now required of most US food producers.
The seafood industry recommends that the pilot program target the use of unapproved antibiotic residues in shrimp, such as chloramphenicol or nitrofurans, which may be illegally fed or applied at the farming or processing level. While less than 5 percent of imported shrimp tested has been found to contain traces of these prohibited antibiotics, shrimp is the largest seafood import (nearly 90 percent of U.S. shrimp is imported, about half of which is farmed) and the most-consumed seafood in America, at 3.4 lbs. per capita. The initial program likely would be conducted with Thailand, the largest exporter of shrimp to the US.
A guidance document of "best practices," being developed by NFI to assist foreign producers with HACCP compliance, includes
-- Purchasing specifications by foreign shrimp processors that require product free of illegal antibiotics, as well as the processors' HACCP plan with semi-annual verification by food safety authorities
-- Frequent verification testing of product samples by a certified laboratory under established U.S. FDA sampling and testing guidelines
-- Verification procedures by U.S. importers to ensure that tested product and imported product are the same
As envisioned, the pilot program would be conducted for approximately 6-12 months and, if successful, may be expanded to other products and countries.
The National Fisheries Institute (NFI) is a non-profit trade association representing more than 700 companies involved in all aspects of the fish and seafood industry.