WASHINGTON — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have announced that they will be taking additional inspection steps to ensure that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe to eat and not contaminated by oil. The strategy includes precautionary fishery closures, increased seafood testing inspections and a new reopening protocol.
To help prevent tainted seafood from reaching the market, NOAA created a seafood sampling and inspection plan. Soon after the oil spill caused by the destruction of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig began spreading through the Gulf in April, the agency began collecting and testing seafood of commercial and recreational fish and shellfish species from areas where the spill had not yet reached. NOAA is using ongoing surveillance to determine whether contamination is present outside the closed area. If fish samples have elevated levels of oil compounds, NOAA will consider whether to expand closed areas.
NOAA will verify that catch was caught outside the closed area using information from vessel monitoring systems, and if tainted fish are found in dockside sampling, NOAA will notify FDA and state health officials for further action.
FDA operates a mandatory safety program for all fish and fishery products under the provisions of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the Public Health Service Act and related federal regulations. It will first target oysters, crab and shrimp for additional sampling since those retain contaminants longer than finfish. The sample collection will primarily target seafood processors who buy seafood directly from harvesters.
Monitoring this first step in the distribution chain will help to keep any potentially contaminated seafood from consumers.
FDA has also created a focused inspection assignment designed to help seafood processors review their individual source controls to ensure proper documentation and to prevent seafood obtained from unknown sources from entering commerce.
The two agencies are also establishing a reopening protocol where NOAA will reopen closed areas only if it is assured, based on consultation with FDA, that fish products within the closed area consistently meet FDA standards for public health and wholesomeness.
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