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Sniffing for Oil in Gulf Seafood

The International Food Protection Training Institute recently announced that it has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to train food protection officials to determine the safety and acceptability of seafood from the oil-contaminated Gulf area.

shucking-oysters-.jpgRecent training programs, June 2-3 and June 8-9 at the NOAA/NMFS laboratory at Pascatoula, MS, provided hands-on training for participants in order to develop their sensory detection skills for identifying tainted seafood exposed to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Skills taught in the training are critical for seafood safety monitoring in order for food protection officials to take regulatory response measures that can include advisories and opening and closing of fisheries.

“The sensory tests tend to be more sensitive than the chemical,” Steven Wilson, chief quality officer for the seafood inspection program at NOAA, told Food Safety News in an interview. 

“The nose is very sensitive,” says Wilson, who explained that normally a combination of chemical and sensory testing–which includes tasting the samples–is used to determine whether seafood is fit for human consumption.

Instruction is provided by special National Marine Fisheries Service/FDA Sensory Expert Team members that have been collecting base-line samples from the Gulf region for these and future training sessions.  The International Food Protection Training Institute coordinated attendance of state officials from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

“We’re being trained to detect different levels of taint, which in this case is oil,” William Mahan told the media last week. “We started out sniffing different samples of oil to sort of train our noses and minds to recognize it.”

According to Mahan, the oily fish smells like, well, oil.  “It has an oil odor to it,” Mahan said. “Everyone has a nose they bring to it … Everybody’s nose works differently. For me, the oysters are a little more challenging.”

To date, through the partnership, along with the Association of Food & Drug Officials, and in collaboration with the FDA, the International Food Protection Training Institute has trained more than 500 food protection professionals from 37 states. 

Utilizing a FY2010 federal appropriation, the institute expects to train approximately 1,000 state and local food protection professionals in 2010.  It aims to train between 2,000 and 3,000 food safety officials in 2011 utilizing funding allocated for such purposes in President Obama’s FY2011 Budget.

Image Credit:  Shucking oysters, NOAA

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