Seafood, unlike most other foods, can pose serious food poisoning risks simply as a result of their biology and/or the way in which they are consumed. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that animals posing a risk do not show any signs that can easily distinguish them from ‘safe” food. This has resulted in a widespread lack of appreciation of the dangers posed by seafood amongst those that catch and distribute the products.
The notion amongst those in the industry is that if the product is “fresh” - meaning recently caught- it is safe to eat, with the corollary being that catchers and distributors take little action to ensure that food is safe to eat, other than to keep the product cold to touch. The lack of data on outbreaks of food poisoning attributed to seafood, except in cases related to shellfish, may have further contributed to the complacent attitude amongst seafood operators to food safety. However the risks posed by seafood are real, and apart from oysters and pipis, little is being done to ensure that only safe products are offered for sale. Even enterprises that export under AQIS requirements may sell product onto the domestic market that is not necessarily handled under their export quality program.
Our study has shown that most operators in the seafood industry are unable to describe the hazards posed by the seafood that they handle and sell and unwittingly subject most to considerable time/temperature abuse. There is ineffective product identification through the distribution channels and thus the industry has limited ability, if any, for effective product recall in the event of a food poisoning outbreak.
There is sufficient evidence (based on survey and interviews with managers and staff within the NSW seafood industry, and with senior personnel from peak industry organisations) to indicate a significant gap between existing industry practice and what is required to control hazards.
Recommendations are made based on these findings, and suggest a “whole of industry” approach to minimise implementation cost, and maintain consistency from catchers to wholesalers. We recommend that comprehensive research is carried out to quantify the hazards and effective control measures for the NSW seafood industry. This research is essential to provide the industry with a scientific basis for the preparation of their HACCP programs, and to ensure that industry can equip itself to provide safe seafood.