Although there has been increased attention paid to food safety in recent years, food safety considerations have always been of utmost importance to retailers and supplier partners when it comes to seafood, said Amy Dukes, marketing coordinator for the Juneau-based Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
“Alaska’s seafood processors abide by strict health, food safety and sanitation standards and are vigilantly monitoring and strengthening manufacturing practices during the production of Alaska seafood to comply with hygiene and food handling recommendations,” she said.
Fresh seafood sold at grocery retail poses a unique challenge to everyone along the supply chain charged with maintaining the strictest food safety standards.
For instance, seafood must be treated differently than beef, pork, poultry and other meat products, Dukes said. It must be handled with care — while, at the same time, being kept cool and moist — and rough handling or improper storage can severely damage its taste, aroma, appearance and texture.
“Few foods can match the delicate texture, rich taste and pleasant aroma of seafood,” Dukes said. “Fresh caught seafood smells like a clean ocean breeze and its flesh is firm, moist and flavorful, and with sophisticated freezing and transportation systems, consumers can enjoy this fresh-caught quality around the world.”
Maintaining a safe temperature throughout every step of the supply chain is one of the top safety considerations and is closely monitored as Alaska seafood makes the journey to the consumer, she added.
In addition, processors of seafood and seafood products are required by the US Food and Drug Administration to address food safety by following a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) prevention system, which identifies food safety hazards, creates controls to prevent hazards, then monitors those controls within a seafood processing facility.
To support quality along the supply chain, ASMI and the Alaska seafood industry prepares and distributes materials, tips and information to help uphold the quality of Alaska seafood. In 2022, the organization looks forward to more meaningfully engaging with consumers and trade about the exhaustive industry efforts to identify and eliminate perceived seafood risks, Dukes said.
“Whether it’s the safety benefits and technological advancements of freezing seafood, continuous monitoring and updating of hazard control protocols, or the evolution of scientific discourse around seafood and mercury, we want to bring a greater focus on why these efforts are undertaken and how it benefits not only the safety of seafood, but in many cases the quality as well.”
While supply chain problems over the past two years related either directly or indirectly to the pandemic have caused some added difficulties, the food safety status of seafood out of Alaska sold at retail remains the same, Dukes said. By following the strictest regulations at every step of the process, Alaskan producers ensure that the final product is safe, sustainable and of the highest quality.
ASMI research has found that a well-trained seafood department sales staff is the number one resource for consumers looking for information on seafood.
With that in mind, Dukes said, retailers should make it their top priority to ensure that staff become familiar with the seafood they handle. ASMI can be a resource for retailers looking for resources to educate their staff.
That education should also include best practices for how to make sure the grocery seafood buying experience is as pleasant as possible, and one that signals to consumers that their grocer takes food safety seriously.
“Customers will evaluate your operation on how it looks and smells from the aisleway,” Dukes said. “Sanitation and visually enticing the customer is important to showcase quality. One tip is to always evaluate your seafood counter and cases from the customer’s perspective - move around your display case so you can see what your consumers see.”
Navigating the educational curve with your customers
Educating consumers about seafood and food safety can help break down a common barrier to higher seafood consumption. Here are some tips from seafoodhealthfacts.org on how to communicate benefits and risks with your shoppers:
With the many varieties of seafood available, it can be overwhelming to gather all the information on the benefits and risk associated with different types of seafood. Here are some facts that will help you make choices about seafood in your diet:
Many scientific studies have found that the benefits of eating seafood greatly outweigh the risks and that removing seafood from the diet can have negative effects on human health. All people are encouraged to eat seafood twice a week.
The most commonly consumed seafoods in the United States present very little risk while offering many health and nutritional benefits.
The main health risk from eating seafood is exposure to harmful bacteria, which can be prevented through proper handling, storing, and cooking. Consumers should focus on eliminating harmful bacteria in their seafood with safe food handling practices.
Consumers should keep the following practices top of mind when preparing seafood:
- Wash hands, utensils, and cooking surfaces often;
- Cook seafood to a minimum of 145°F for 15 seconds’
- Keep raw and cooked seafood separate to avoid cross-contamination; and
- Store seafood in the refrigerator below 40°F or in the freezer below 0°F.