Evelyn Watts, Hymel, Thomas M.
Evelyn Watts and Thomas Hymel
Catfish is one of the iconic seafood products of Louisiana, from wild-caught to farm-raised. Historically, as with other seafood products, catfish processing had been regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, in 2008, Congress moved jurisdiction over catfish to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service. In late fall 2015, USDA/FSIS published new regulations affecting processors of catfish and other species in the order Siluriformes, which includes catfish, swai, pangasius, basa and others. This rule mandated that all catfish processors had to comply with the USDA/FSIS inspection program as of March 2016. Along with imported Siluriformes fish, Louisiana farm-raised and wild-caught catfish processors were affected by the rule. This was the first time regulation of seafood products moved from the FDA to USDA/FSIS. Processors had to comply with facility standards and inspection hours and had to document their food safety programs.
Catfish harvesters and processors had an 18-month transition period to come into compliance with USDA/FSIS regulations and facility standards. They were also required to develop and implement protocols and recordkeeping associated with Sanitation Standards and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) to assure the safety of the product. In response, Louisiana Sea Grant and the LSU AgCenter developed a food safety model that would assist the Louisiana wild catfish industry in developing, implementing and validating their food safety systems. Sea Grant and the AgCenter are working with Louisiana farm-raised and wild catfish processors through visits, some in conjunction with USDA/FSIS officers; establishing sanitation standards documentation and monitoring; and developing, implementing and validating HACCP.
Even though some processors participated in seafood HACCP workshops in the late 1990s, many needed an update. Sea Grant and the AgCenter created a training curriculum, adapting the National Seafood HACCP Alliance curriculum to USDA regulations. This curriculum complies with USDA/FSIS HACCP training requirements. In addition, a food safety model for wild catfish processing was developed. In cooperation with Louisiana Fisheries Forward program, Sea Grant and the AgCenter offered two one-day workshops for wild catfish processors. The first workshop was hosted on the LSU Baton Rouge campus, and the second in Mansura. Nine processors participated in the two workshops. In addition to Sea Grant and the AgCenter, the workshops were taught by the Louisiana Department of Health and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
During the transition period, USDA/FSIS assigned inspection personnel to be present during all hours of operation in processing facilities. At the end of the transition period, inspection coverage was adjusted to once per production shift. Typically, processors are approved for eight-hour processing shifts. Additional charges for inspection service outside these hours limit operations for processors that cannot afford overtime.
Marketers are required to use the correct market name on the product label. While processors are adapting to this new regulation, Sea Grant and the AgCenter are creating awareness among consumers, food service providers and distributors over proper naming of catfish. Only those catfish species historically harvested from the wild or raised in aquaculture systems in the U.S. can legally be sold or listed as catfish. The issue of substituting other fish species for domestic catfish has been a problem for quite a while. Regulations were established in Louisiana to guard against this practice since the 1990s. The USDA also regulates catfish labeling. Fish such as swai, basa and others cannot be sold in the U.S. as “catfish.” Although it is not illegal to sell swai and basa in the U.S., it is illegal to sell them as catfish. Consumers are advised to look for the USDA stamp of inspection (Figure 1) and check the common name on the label as catfish.
Since Sept. 1, 2017, full enforcement has been in place. Sea Grant and the AgCenter are playing an important role assisting the local industry to comply with USDA inspection programs.
Evelyn Watts is an assistant professor in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences, and Thomas Hymel is a marine extension agent with the LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant.
(This article appears in the fall 2018 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
Figure 1. Example of USDA/FSIS stamp of inspection.
Katheryn Parraga, at left, research assistant in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences, reviews seafood safety documentation with Penny Crappell, catfish processing plant owner in Berwick, Louisiana, on Aug. 25, 2017. Photo by Evelyn Watts