Poultry, Beef and Leafy Vegetables are Most Common Causes of Food Poisoning in the U.S. - Where's the Fish?
Monday,30 August,2010 13:43:43
The most recent data on the most common causes of food poisoning is out and seafood looks to have dodged the media bullet from this report, but the danger of seafood-related illnesses is greater than ever.
As a fishmonger, this headline may make one think that seafood is the safest food to eat. I think that is both true and untrue.
One reason why chicken and beef cause more illnesses is because there are so many servings of chicken and beef eaten in the U.S. each year. On an illness per thousand basis, seafood is right up there with other food sources as a potential source of illness.
Fish, in general, is safer to eat than chicken, beef, and pork. Most fish is very safe to eat. Most fish can be eaten raw with little risk of foodborne illness. Imagine if Americans ate chicken, pork, and beef raw like we eat fish - ouch! We would have fewer Americans and many more sick Americans. So, fish is a safe protein source. However, if you add in raw molluskan shellfish, seafood is a much riskier food option.
On an illness per thousand basis, eating raw molluskan shellfish is one of the riskiest foods. That is why raw shellfish must have shellfish tags. If someone gets ill from eating raw shellfish, it is important to quickly track the shellfish to the source, test the water and shellfish, and close the beds if needed. This is why there is an FDA warning to high risk groups to not eat raw molluskan shellfish. Cooking kills most of the bad things that could be in raw shellfish, but not all. Some ways to minimize health risks with raw shellfish are to:
- Make sure live shellfish ALWAYS have accurate shellfish tags, and keep the tags for 90 days.
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- Keep live shellfish stored below 45 degrees F.
- Discard any dead shellfish promptly.
- DO NOT CROSS CONTAMINATE live shellfish with anything else.
Another food safety concern with seafood is histamine poisoning from scrombroid fish species. The commonly sold scrombroid species are tuna, mahi mahi, and mackerel. This is controlled by keeping the fish below 45 degrees F. The U.S. Food Code recommends holding fish at 41 degrees F or lower, use that as your action temperature level. If a product is found with an internal temperature over 41 degrees F, get the whole fish into an ice slush bath, or pack cut fish in a plastic bag and submerge in ice in a cooler until the internal temperature is below 38 degrees F, preferably lower. Scrombroid poison cannot be killed by cooking, so it must be controlled by keeping the fish cold throughout the supply chain. The key to reducing the risk of scrombroid food poisoning is to:
-Keep scrombroid fish (and all fish) at 41 degrees F or below.
-If scrombroid fish show signs of spoilage, discard the fish (don’t push the shelf life of these fish).
These food safety tips are some of the most important for store level seafood employees to know, but there is more to seafood safety than can be discussed here. Corporate seafood buyers and warehouse facility managers should be HACCP certified. Seafood managers should have food handling training and a food handler certification. It would be good to have all frontline food handlers have the certification, but due to turnover and cost, that may not be feasible. All new hire training materials should cover the basics of food handling.
The basics of good seafood handling are the basics of good food handling, whether the location is the fish plant, the supermarket seafood counter, the restaurant kitchen or a home kitchen. Here are some tips for good seafood handling:
- FIFO First In, First Out. Use the oldest product first. Keep a pack date on all seafood in storage or on display.
- COOK meat, poultry, and eggs thoroughly (160 degrees F for beef and most seafood), hold hot foods at 140 degrees F or higher.
- SEPARATE raw and cooked foods to avoid cross contamination. It is good to separate all raw seafood species to minimize exchange of spoilage bacteria and potential illness causing organisms.
- CHILL cooked foods within two hours.
- HOLD COLD Hold seafood at 41 degrees F or lower.
- WASH, RINSE AND SANITIZE all food contact equipment and utensils after use, and all food contact surfaces every four hours.
- REPORT Consumers should report food born illnesses to the local health department.
There is more good information about safe food handling available from your local and state health departments. Here are some other sources of information on safe food handling:
Serve Safe Certifications
CDC Information on Foodborne Illness
Costco makes sustainability moves
Monday,23 August,2010 13:28:17
Costco strengthened its sustainability stand recently, and some of the interesting news was between the lines.
Costco made moves towards a sustainable seafood policy last year, and has put more teeth into its program. Costco will discontinue seven species of fish in its stores: Atlantic cod, shark, Atlantic halibut, bluefin tuna, swordfish, orange roughy and Chilean sea bass. Costco reaffirmed a commitment to sell responsibly sourced farmed salmon and tilapia and lauded two of its suppliers, Marine Harvest and Regal Springs, as collaborators.
Some important points on Costco’s announcement:
1. Costco did not follow the path taken by Target earlier this year by discontinuing farmed salmon. Farmed salmon is the No. 1 fish item in Costco — by far. In the long run, farmed seafood will dominate the fresh seafood offerings in the retail sector. The wise long-term approach is to work with suppliers to make aquaculture more sustainable, rather than to blacklist the product. Did grocery stores decide to stop selling wheat flour during the dust bowl of the 1930s? No. Farmers implemented crop rotations and other practices and made land-based farms more sustainable.
2. Costco called out Marine Harvest and Regal Springs by name. That is a huge show of support for those two vendor partners. It also puts more pressure on those two suppliers to continue to make their operations more sustainable. Both Regal Springs and Marine Harvest are in the forefront of responsible aquaculture and will respond well, I am sure.
3. Costco is working with the World Wildlife Fund on the aquaculture standards for its farmed seafood, including Thai shrimp. Again, Costco wisely decided to work on responsibly sourcing a farmed seafood product, rather than deciding to discontinue a product or not buy shrimp from a particular source. Costco did not go the route of some, by requiring certifications. They are working with the Shrimp Aquaculture Dialogue standards and evaluating the upcoming Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). There are many paths to becoming more sustainable, as Costco is demonstrating.
4. The seven fish species that Costco decided to stop sourcing are all minor items for them and will have little or no negative sales impact. Like Walmart, Costco carries a limited variety, but strives to sell massive amounts of the few varieties they do carry. Discontinuing these seven items may be more symbolic than substantive. The move will certainly appeal to “green” investors who have apparently been increasing pressure on Costco to make a stand on seafood sustainability. Costco stock has been trading in a narrow range since the change in sustainability policy. The change may not have helped Costco stock, but it may have helped it from losing value.
5. Just because Costco decided to not sell these items does not mean all seven are poor choices. Some Chilean sea bass are from a Marine Stewardship Council-certified fishery, some Atlantic cod stocks are doing very well, and some swordfish stocks are not overfished, for example. Some of these products can still be good choices for smaller retailers, if sourced responsibly. The limited overall supply of most of these fish means the prices are too high and the availability too weak to support sales in massive retailers such as Costco or Walmart.
6. Costco targets and gets more affluent customers than its competition. More affluent consumers are usually better educated and more likely to respond positively to corporate responsibility initiatives such as seafood sustainability. More affluent consumers also buy more seafood.
I applaud Costco for moving forward with more responsible seafood sourcing in its own way. It is not only the right thing to do, but it can be good business if executed well.
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