The need for effective control and monitoring of safety and quality is obvious following the crisis of confidence caused by the recent viral outbreak which sent shockwaves throughout the seafood industry. Test kits allow industry to control the QA process rather than just follow the recommendations of consultants. They also allow industry to decide the type of processing required and the end use of the products being produced. One example is if a processor can determine the amount of bacteria present on seafood and the storage conditions it has been exposed to when delivered by fishers then they can estimate the length of shelf life that the seafood after processing will attain. This information will also indicate what types of product can be produced. It is a waste of time producing seafood at the limit of an importing country's standards if there is going to be further handling before the consumer purchases it. The Australian processor's target should be mush higher than this.
The new statutory requirements for food safety plans and the increasing adoption of formal quality management systems, necessitate the development of quality measures that are relevant and quantifiable.
For industry to implement QA programmes, there is an essential need for tools by which to monitor the systems. Rapid test kits provide these tools, but are they appropriate and effective for the Australian seafood processing environment? This knowledge is crucial to successful adoption of AQ programme initiatives.
There is a special need for this information by existing small and medium sized seafood enterprises, as well as new players entering the market, who do not have the resources not time to assess available methods themselves. Information providers such as AUSEAS can only provide lists of test kits that may be available but they have no funds to ascertain which ones work reliably under Australian conditions. They have stated that they will not recommend anything they have not tested yet this is what industry really wants. Promotional material accompanying test kits usually does not warn of any limitations.
Three areas of need for objective analysis are identified.
As QA becomes more widespread, there is a need to specify and quantify the quality parameters so they can be included in product specifications associated with contracts. Those parameters may be Physical (eg size grades), Chemical (eg K values), Bacterial (eg TPC's), or Sensory (eg Demerit scores).
HACCP and Food Safety Plans
To monitor the effectiveness of a QA program such as proposed by SeaQual and SQMI, an objective, reliable measure of quality is needed. There are few universal measurements of quality and many tests require laboratory facilities. A number of rapid test kits have been developed which reduce delays in obtaining essential information required for processing strategies. Not all kits available are effective or suitable. This investigator has appraised some test kits intended for identifying the presence of sulphite on prawns and found them to be very inaccurate. An assessment of test kits in the Australian seafood processing environment is essential to establish their suitability.
Disputes and Loss Assessment
At the Centre officers are sometimes employed by loss assessors to report on the condition of suspect seafood in the distribution chain. We use a combination of bacterial, chemical and sensory techniques. The use of test kits within the processing sector would clarify many of these disputes.
A variety of rapid kit methods, both microbiological and chemical, have been evaluated with respect to their accuracy for and application to the Australian seafood industry. The information is now readily available for industry managers to base operational processing decisions on.
A few kits demonstrated value for monitoring total microbial contamination levels within day to day processing line operations. Additionally, two kits were successfully applied within industry for measurement of sulphite and histamine residual levels. However, most kit methods were inappropriate in functional design or provided unreliable results which negate their usefulness for industry application. The information gained is valuable for industry to base business management decisions on. In line with this, summary précis for each rapid test kit evaluated will be available through the Seafood Services Australia website.
Industry response to the sulphite and histamine kits was very positive and several seafood processors have indicated they are using the histamine kit. Additionally, negotiations are occurring with AQIS to have the histamine kit accepted by them as a standard method of testing.
Keywords: quality measures; test kits; rapid methods; seafood; fish; prawns