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Fish and Shellfish

Fish and fishing may cause considerable problems to the environment through the production of substantial quantities of solid waste and byproducts, much of which may be organic in nature, waste water, water consumption, air pollution, and the use of substantial quantities of energy. Solid waste produced includes: inedible fish parts and endoskeletons; shell parts; inedible fish and other sea life; and other wastes including internal organs, etc. Fish and other seafood processing requires large quantities of uncontaminated potable water. The waste water has a high organic content because of the presence of blood, tissue, and dissolved proteins. It also contains high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. The detergents and disinfectants used to clean and sanitize the facilities contribute to the high level of contamination in the waste water stream. Odors may quickly become a substantial problem because of the amount of organic matter present in the facility. Other potential air pollutants are exhaust gases of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide from the various heating and power generation systems. Particulates may be generated during the fish smoking process. High levels of energy are used for producing hot water, steam, electricity, air conditioning, cooling, freezing, and production of ice. (See endnote 17.)

Fish and shellfish are exposed to microorganisms in polluted water, harvesting equipment, processing equipment, or from infected people. Insects, rodents, and birds contribute considerable quantities of contamination to fish and shellfish areas. Fish and shellfish provide an excellent medium for the rapid growth of these microorganisms. Shellfish obtain their food by filtering it out of water and at the same time take in microorganisms, chemical contaminants and natural toxins and also concentrate these substances within their bodies, thereby increasing the risk for disease. The consumption of raw products, such as oysters, adds considerably to potential health problems. Disease outbreaks have included hepatitis A, salmonellosis, typhoid fever, and cholera. Botulism type E, coagulation-positive Staphylococci, Shigella, Vibrio vulnificus, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, and other enteric organisms have also caused disease. Certain fish species have a tendency to bioaccumulate heavy metals and PCBs to dangerous levels. Some fish species deteriorate rapidly and produce histamines which causes histamine fish poisoning. Using contaminated ice and water for refrigeration and processing may add substantially to the problem. Microorganisms causing spoilage may contribute to the health problems especially in the histamine-producing fish such as tuna and mahi-mahi. Chemicals may become problems especially those which are cleaners and sanitizers. Extraneous items found along with fish may cause serious physical problems to individuals consuming this fish product. (See endnotes 14, 15.)

The incidence of disease is expected to increase because a substantial amount of seafood consumed in the United States is imported from a variety of countries where inadequate surveillance techniques may be utilized. The fish and/or shellfish may be grown in small ponds (aquaculture) or in areas where untreated animal or human waste is found. Further, wild animals can contaminate these areas. Rapid refrigeration and freezing at proper temperatures is essential but may be compromised and therefore create the necessary conditions for disease organisms to grow.

Best Practices in Processing of Fish and Shellfish (See endnote 15)

  • • Establish a food safety plan and management program using the HACCP system in a systematic, comprehensive, and thorough manner for each product.
  • • All critical control points must be identified and procedures established and followed in a very strict manner.
  • • Determine the accuracy of thermometers for refrigerators, freezers, and heat processors and frequently check the time and temperatures in the various parts of the process.
  • • Consider potential hazards of environmental contaminants such as agricultural chemicals that may have run off into the water as well as runoff from manure piles or other sewage systems.
  • • Monitor for residues of banned antibiotics.
  • • Utilize complete hand washing and sanitizing procedures especially after use of toilet facilities and before touching any part of the food or equipment used in the food process, as well as use foot baths where deemed necessary.
  • • Have the HACCP plan evaluated frequently to make sure that it is working properly and make necessary changes immediately.
  • • The facility must have proper control over every part of the food process that is outsourced.
  • • Provide a facility layout which enhances the cleaning of all parts of the food processing plant, provides immediate access to hand washing facilities, etc., while minimizing traffic through the processing plant.
  • • Use cold storage areas that are clean and dry.
  • • Use only well-serviced equipment which has been certified by a rating agency such as the National Sanitation Foundation.
  • • Clean all ventilation equipment and filters on a regular basis.
  • • Evaluate the incoming air for potential pollutants and take defensive measures against contamination of the food process.
  • • Establish a comprehensive pest control program that includes the following: removal of all litter and old equipment; installing seals or screens on all windows, doors, walls, floor drains, and other openings to the facility; establishing pest traps in areas away from the food processing areas and frequent inspection of them; and checks to determine if there are any rodent signs in the facility.
  • • Maintain the outdoors in such a manner that there are no puddles or muddy areas.
  • • Separate restrooms from food production and processing areas and provide hot and cold running water, hand detergent, and forced air dryers.
  • • Separate the finished product from the raw product areas to avoid cross-contamination.
  • • Protect all overhead lights with shields.
  • • Inspect all roofs to make sure that there are no leaks into the food processing or storage areas.
  • • All walls, ceilings, and floors must be made of easily cleanable, non-permeable materials and need to be cleaned frequently with the floors done daily and more frequently if necessary.
  • • All food contact surfaces must be cleaned very thoroughly and sanitized after each process or more frequently if necessary.
  • • Establish a routine maintenance and cleaning plan which is used at the end of each shift and more frequently when necessary.
  • • Store all packing materials off the floor and in clean and dust-free areas.
  • • Protect all food and raw ingredients during cleaning and sanitizing processes.
  • • Establish a mandatory personal hygiene program for all employees, provide necessary training and continuing education on a regular basis, and enforce the program strictly.
  • • Train all supervisors how to observe potential signs of disease in employees and immediately remove them from the food processing areas.
  • • Monitor all employees for signs of contagious diseases including skin sores and remove them from work immediately.
  • • Do not permit food, drinks, chewing gum, or tobacco in processing, packaging, or storage areas.
  • • Ensure that all workers wear appropriate protective clothing including clean aprons, facemasks, boots, and hair coverings.
  • • Provide a proper source of high-quality water in adequate quantities to perform all necessary functions for the growing, processing, and preparation of food, as well as all cleaning functions.
  • • Routinely test water and ice for potential contamination from microorganisms and chemicals, and evaluate for adequate chlorine residual in the water.
  • • Prevent the potential for backflow into the potable water supply by use of check valves, proper hose storage, and elimination of potential submerged inlets.
  • • Train all employees who use chemicals on proper dosages, use and storage away from food processing and preparation areas, and how to dispose of them properly.
  • • Provide an appropriate ventilation system and clean and service it regularly to avoid condensation on packaging materials or food contact surfaces.
  • • Use appropriate quality control procedures to ensure the safety of the finished product. (See endnote 15.)
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