WASHINGTON (FNS) -- Supermarket and food industry representatives are embracing the Food and Drug Administration's new Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points-based seafood inspection plan.
The final regulation, released Dec. 5, did not significantly stray from the agency's preliminary roadmap for seafood inspection reform proposed almost a year ago.
The issue of seafood safety and handling at supermarkets was left out of the new federal regulation, because the agency will continue its policy of leaving oversight at retail to states and local governments.
The regulation addresses seafood safety in the chain of delivery involving processors and importers.
The final regulation does not include a requirement for retailers to offer seafood handling instructions for consumers, such as the Agriculture Department now requires for packages of ground meat and poultry. While FDA had never formally proposed mandatory handling instructions for seafood, it did ask for comments on the issue in its initial proposal.
For its part, the Food Marketing Institute, in comments to FDA, had opposed any labeling requirement for seafood. FMI had argued that a mandatory program would stifle innovation in retail food safety programs. In addition, FMI said, the cost of applying such labels would reach more than $100 million, and create no benefit to consumers.
The final seafood rules now meet with FMI's approval, said George Green, FMI vice president for government relations and assistant general counsel.
"We think they are a major step in the right direction to protect consumers and increase public health," Green said.
Under the new federal policy, seafood processors and importers are required to conduct an audit of their procedures to determine at what points contamination of seafood is most likely to occur. Next, they must develop a monitoring system to keep tabs on these critical points to ensure contamination isn't occurring.
Although HACCP doesn't cover fishing vessels or transporters, it does place the burden on importers of being aware of where fish are caught and how they are handled.
This food safety inspection method, which is gradually becoming the worldwide standard, is already widely used in many types of food processing, as well as in the seafood shops of a small number of supermarkets.
Until now, the seafood inspection system has been criticized as having numerous weak links, given the multitude of sources and steps in the delivery and processing of seafood.
"Under the previous program, inspectors could only evaluate what they saw on the day of the visit," said Lee Weddig, executive vice president of the National Fisheries Institute, Arlington, Va.
Of particular importance is the fact that all seafood processors and importers are covered by the new HACCP, even small companies that typically are exempt from such federal regulations. Therefore, "consumers can be assured that all seafood on the commercial market is covered," Weddig said.