Training Program Helps Keep Seafood Safe

Michael W. Moody  |  4/27/2006 8:39:51 PM

HACCP requires that seafood processors control biological, chemical and physical hazards. Processors must be sure that proper cooking times and temperatures have been used to eliminate pathogenic bacteria, which are a biological hazard. (Photo by Mike Moody)

Using HACCP principles, seafood processors document the safety of products. Sometimes this includes handling and storage practices at harvest. (Photo by Mike Moody)

HACCP affects the entire processing facility. Employees must be aware of their responsibilities to produce a clean product and to use recommended sanitary practices. A HACCP-trained individual must document daily sanitation practices. (Photo by John Wozniak)

Photo By: John Wozniak

In December 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a requirement that all seafood must be processed using Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles. The intent of the requirement is to increase food safety and consumer confidence.

The seven principles of HACCP are:  
  1. Conduct a hazard analysis and identify preventive measures.
  2. Identify critical control points (CCP).
  3. Establish critical limits.
  4. Monitor each CCP.
  5. Establish corrective actions.
  6. Establish a record-keeping system.
  7. Establish verification procedures.

Although the use of HACCP principles in food processing has become more important in recent years, the concept, as applied to food manufacturing, has been around for more than 35 years. The Pillsbury Company initially used the principles to manufacture food for the U.S. space program in the early 1960s. By 1974, low-acid canned food manufacturers were HACCP-regulated to protect consumers against botulism.

Over the years, HACCP has proved to be an effective, systematic way to ensure safe food to consumers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires HACCP in the processing of red meats and poultry. Today, HACCP is the principal food safety tool used by regulatory agencies.

HACCP is effective because it requires seafood processors to identify food safety hazards and then to initiate actions that prevent the hazard from affecting the seafood. Using HACCP principles allows for a preventive rather than reactive food safety system. For example, processors of cooked, ready-toeat seafoods such as crabmeat, crawfish meat and shrimp know that bacteria associated with the live seafood must be destroyed before the product can be provided to consumers. Using HACCP principles, processors determine that achieving a specific minimum temperature at the cooking step will destroy the bacteria that may cause illness. Using HACCP in food processing is not a zero risk strategy, but when performed correctly, seafood processors and consumers can be confident that the hazards have been eliminated.

A key element in HACCP implementation is training. So important is training that the seafood regulation requires that certain HACCP functions be performed only by “an individual who has successfully completed training in the application of HACCP principles.” The regulation further states that this training must be “at least equivalent to that received under standardized curriculum recognized as adequate” by the FDA.

HACCP represents a major change for seafood processors in many ways. First, they must keep records for designated processing steps to ensure control over identified hazards. In addition, these records are used as part of the inspection process by regulatory agencies. Second, processors must have a good understanding of potential hazards associated with seafoods and the science involved in controlling those hazards.

Generally, hazards fall into three categories: biological, chemical and physical. Consequently, processors must understand such concepts as the time and temperature relationships needed to destroy or minimize the effects of biological (microbial) hazards, the natural and man-made toxins and chemicals that can contaminate foods and ways to prevent foreign objects from contaminating foods.

In 1994, a National Seafood HACCP Alliance was formed in anticipation of a HACCP training requirement as part of future regulations. The initial group was composed of representatives from governmental agencies, industry and university programs, including an LSU Agricultural Center representative. The overall goal was to increase the safety of domestically processed and imported seafoods consumed in the United States through a focused HACCP training and education program.

The Alliance estimated that there were more than 5,000 domesticlicensed seafood processing firms. There are nearly 500 individual seafood processing permits in Louisiana alone. In addition, the Alliance estimated that nearly 3,000 state and federal seafood inspectors and other individuals would seek training.

Working in concert with FDA, the Alliance developed and published a core curriculum, which has become the standard referred to in the regulation. A manual, now in its second edition, is more than 200 pages long and is available in both English and Spanish. The Alliance also developed a protocol for teaching the course. The course is three days long, and all successful students receive a Certificate of Completion from the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO). This certificate shows proof to regulatory agencies that an individual has met the training requirement.

In October 1996, the LSU AgCenter offered the first seafood HACCP class to a group of 28 processors. Since that time, the AgCenter has provided 24 classes statewide, with 921 students successfully participating in the training. Representatives from the FDA and the Louisiana Office of Public Health participated in teaching every course in Louisiana.

Nationally, there have been 364 basic courses offered by other universities and consulting groups to 9,701 students. Internationally, the numbers are 63 basic courses and 1,170 students.

As a result of this effort, most Louisiana processors have a HACCPtrained employee responsible for writing and implementing a HACCP plan. However, because of turnover of personnel in processing facilities and the start-up of new facilities, the AgCenter will continue training but on a reduced scale. An individual needs to take the course only once.

Because of the popularity of the HACCP training, seafood processors, including those from Louisiana, have requested a complementary course dealing specifically with plant sanitation. The Alliance has undertaken this challenge and has prepared a one-day course titled Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOP) training. This course will address issues associated with cleaning and sanitizing of the facility, employee sanitation practices and plant design.

As in the basic HACCP training course, a manual has been developed along with a course protocol. Successful participants will receive certificates from AFDO. There is no requirement in the HACCP regulation that seafood processors receive sanitation training, but many seafood processors have expressed a desire for the course. The LSU AgCenter will offer the course beginning in the summer of 2000.

The Louisiana seafood processing industry, working hand-in-hand with the LSU AgCenter, is meeting the HACCP challenge.

(This article was published in the spring 2000 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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