[Alaska Sea Grant]

Processors focus on seafood safety
and quality to boost markets

Date: March 1, 1996
Contact: Doug Schneider, 907-474-7449

Special for the Kodiak Daily Mirror ComFish '96 issue

KODIAK, Alaska--Fish are food. That's the message behind new federal standards meant to improve the quality and safety of the nation's seafood. To meet the standards, thousands of Alaska seafood workers are being trained to properly handle fish and shellfish.

"Ensuring the quality of Alaska seafood has to be a team effort," said Kevin O'Sullivan, quality assurance program manager for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. "Everyone from the CEO down to the college student working the processor line has to have these skills and knowledge."

Seafood processing plants nationwide have one year to develop written plans to meet the new federal guidelines that ensure seafood safety in their plants. The plans are based on the concept of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP). That is, quality and safety is checked at crucial points during processing.

To help the industry meet the standards, ASMI has joined forces with the University of Alaska's Marine Advisory Program to provide training to the seafood industry. Chuck Crapo, a seafood specialist with MAP, will visit processing plants this summer to instruct workers on proper personal hygiene and plant sanitation.

"We've been going to processors for the last couple of years to do seminars on sanitation, and this year we are planning to get to a number of new plants," said Crapo. "The processing industry has a lot of employee turnover so we need to do this repeatedly, as a kind of employee orientation process."

In his seminars, Crapo instructs workers on the need to keep processing equipment clean and explains how easily bacteria can multiply in an unclean environment. Crapo said he emphasizes lessons in proper personal hygiene because fecal bacteria from unclean hands is the single biggest safety problem in the industry.

"We can talk a lot about the fish but we also need to focus in on the habits of the processors," said Crapo. "From the feedback we got last year, talking about personal hygiene habits was the most effective."

ASMI's Kevin O'Sullivan says although all seafood processors are required to meet the federal seafood standards, Alaska processors can use their commitment to quality as a marketing tool.

"Seafood buyers like to know that there is a rigid program to assure quality. It makes them look at Alaska seafood products more favorably," said O'Sullivan. "There will be a level playing field again one day where everyone will meet the standard, but Alaska has been making the effort long before it was required. I think that says Alaska is serious about being competitive."

O'Sullivan says videos and publications that explain HACCP and sanitation are available free to processors from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. ASMI's toll-free number is 800-478-2903. Alaska Sea Grant has posters printed in Spanish and English that summarize how processing plant employees can maintain good hygiene. For more information about Sea Grant posters and publications, or upcoming sanitation and HACCP training, contact the University of Alaska Marine Advisory Program in Anchorage at 907-274-9691.

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