Restoring consumer confidence in seafood safety


April Forristall, assistant editor

Published on
March 28, 2012

Is one of the reason that U.S. per-capita seafood consumption has been stuck at 16 pounds because consumers are losing confidence in the safety of the protein?

Chris Hodge, account and marketing director at Micro Analytical Systems Inc. (MASI), thinks it’s a factor. Due to the BP oil spill in 2010 and the nuclear disaster in Japan last year, coupled with a lot of misinformation about seafood in the mainstream media, there’s a need to restore consumer faith in seafood safety.

And that’s what Emeryville, Calif.-based MASI aims to do by expanding its services, growing from a methymercury-testing firm initially to a company that tests for many pathogens and substances, including Listeria monocytogenes, histamine, E. cloi, salmonella, radiation, antibiotics, fungicides and sulfites.

“We realized, while relevant, it just wasn’t enough to ease consumer concern over seafood, which is our overarching goal,” Hodge told SeafoodSource of his company’s decision to expand its testing services. “We’re trying to bring consumers back to the fish counter and restore their faith in seafood as a clean, safe, sustainable protein source. Just testing for mercury wasn’t the complete answer, and our goal is to be that complete answer.”

MAS employs a variety of technologies at critical points of the supply chain and is 100 percent proactive. “We are not a food lab,” said Hodge. “Out point is to do this testing proactively, not reactively after the fact and pass that on to consumers.”

The company’s presence is apparent in three markets — Las Vegas, San Francisco and Chicago — in both retail and foodservice. MASI is looking at expanding to other areas, but testing is expensive so there has to be interest before they simply set up shop, said Hodge.

As far as the cost, Hodge said some retailers and restaurant operators pass the cost of testing on to consumers and others absorb the cost of testing, so it is transparent to consumers.

“To those that are simply worried about price, it seems that those people are not looking at seafood as their protein,” said Hodge. “To those who are concerned [about seafood safety] but want health benefits of seafood, they’re willing to pay a little bit more.”

In retail outlets, seafood that tests pathogen-free displays the MASI’s Safe Harbor logo. In restaurants, the logo can appear on menus or as a window decal. And, in both, MASI trains counter and wait staff so that they can pass on the information to consumers.

“[MASI] is about more than testing; our program is also about marketing and training and education. The goal is to arm counter staff with knowledge and information to gain confidence in the products they’re selling,” said Hodge. “We need to communicate the health benefits of seafood, and arming consumers with information about contaminant levels helps restore confidence in seafood.”

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