The two things FDA constantly tests for in imported shrimp


Benjamin L. England and Rick D. Quinn

Published on
December 13, 2012

America’s love for shrimp is no secret. In fact, Americans consume more shrimp than any other seafood product. A vast majority of the shrimp we consume is imported and last year the United States imported 1.27 billion pounds of shrimp from countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Ecuador, China, Vietnam, Mexico and India. Imported shrimp from these countries totals 85 percent of the imported shrimp consumed in America. That’s a lot of shrimp.  So how does the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) attempt to regulate this much product? 

Despite all the requirements for imported shrimp, FDA tests for two things more frequently than anything else: Salmonella and unapproved animal drugs. FDA frequently tests for nitrofurans and chloramphenicol, but it sometimes also tests for malachite green, fluoroquinolones, and gentian violet. And what does FDA do when it finds one of these? The FDA uses the Import Alerts system to attempt to regulate the supply of imported shrimp entering the U.S. market.

How does an FDA Import Alert work?  If a foreign manufacturer gets placed on a red list, or is not on a green list (for a countrywide import alert), FDA will automatically detain their entry. Once detained, FDA will require that the U.S. importer prove that the shrimp complies with the applicable requirement, such as the shrimp being free of Salmonella. FDA will typically place a firm on import alert after one entry tests positive for Salmonella or unapproved animal drugs and for a countrywide alert, all companies in that region. While Import Alerts may ease the burden on FDA’s resources they also tend to catch a host of compliant companies in the wide swath of their net as well.

Manufacturers should implement a resilient testing program using FDA’s sampling/testing methods for verifying that raw and processed shrimp do not have Salmonella or unapproved animal drugs. Although these programs may come with a substantial price tag, the business costs of FDA automatically detaining your shipments will include not only time and money to clear the shipments, but also business opportunities and goodwill. Avoiding an FDA Import Alert is always the best course of action but even if you do everything right you may still be “caught in the net” down the road. But that’s another blog…

Relevant FDA Import Alerts:

Import Alert 16-18: Countrywide automatic detention of shrimp from Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Thailand for Salmonella, filth, and decomposition. Import Alert 16-35: Countrywide automatic detention of shrimp from India for Salmonella, filth, and decomposition.
Import Alert 16-81: Automatic detention of seafood products from a specific manufacturer for Salmonella.
Import Alert 16-124: Automatic detention of seafood products from a specific manufacturer for unapproved animal drugs.
Import Alert 16-131: Countrywide automatic detention of shrimp from China for unapproved animal drugs (malachite green, fluoroquinolones, nitrofurans, and gentian violet).

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