Gulf seafood remains safe, expert says

Richard Bogren  |  5/26/2011 11:18:09 PM

News Release Distributed 05/26/11

The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico produce nearly 30 percent of domestic seafood in the United States.

Due to its diet of phytoplankton, our wild-caught seafood is more heart-healthy than farm-raised warm-water seafood from other parts of the world, said LSU AgCenter seafood specialist Lucina Lampila.

Fish, shrimp and oysters from the Gulf of Mexico “are the most scrutinized seafood in the United States in the past 20 years,” Lampila added.

For the past year or so, the FDA and the National Marine Fisheries Service as well as the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries have been inspecting the Gulf harvest.

Professional sensory evaluation specialists, or what Lampila calls “sniff testers,” have randomly evaluated more than 300,000 pieces of Gulf seafood, and all tested below threshold levels for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – PAHs – that could pose threats to consumers.

The sniffers have highly trained senses of smell that can detect the presence of PAHs at levels below those allowable by FDA, Lampila said. And to pass, a seafood sample has to be acceptable to five of seven testers.

PAHs exist in many foods, Lampila said. They’re in grilled and smoked meats and occur naturally in many vegetables. But not all are believed to cause cancer. The sniffers are on the lookout for 13 PAHs with high molecular weights that are considered carcinogenic.

The testing process begins with evaluations of the seafood as it comes out of the water. If the water is free of oil, the products move on to the sniffers. But passing the first sniff test isn’t enough.

Seafood that passes is cooked and tested again for aroma and taste, Lampila said. Samples that pass that test go on to a final chemical test in a federal laboratory or a private laboratory that’s federally accredited.

“Nothing that passed the first test has been shown to be contaminated at levels exceeding the levels of PAHs established for safety,” Lampila said. “The nose knows.”

Acceptable levels of PAHs vary among different types of seafood, Lampila said. Finfish metabolize the chemicals better than shrimp, and shrimp do better than oysters.

“There’s no such thing as zero tolerance,” Lampila said. “Acceptable levels are established based on risk assessments, and samples are evaluated relative to a standard based on the chemical benzo(a)pyrene.”

Seafood is good for you, too, she said. U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines suggest eating eight ounces or two portions of seafood each week. It’s high in disease-preventing omega-3 fatty acids.

Rick Bogren
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