How Safe is That Sushi? UMass Amherst to Study Seafood Hazards and Standards

AMHERST, Mass. - The department of food science of the University of Massachusetts has been awarded $238,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish its Safe Seafood Project. This project will develop research models to examine a representative sample of seafood consumed in the U.S. Data collected and analyzed by the UMass research team will be given to government agencies involved in developing science-based seafood standards. The grant will partially fund the first year of a proposed five-year project.

"Americans love to eat fish and, more and more, people are consuming raw seafood in the form of sushi and raw oysters. This project allows us to help both the consumer and the seafood industry ensure that the seafood we put on the table is of high quality and is safe to eat," says microbiologist and project coordinator Robert Levin.

Two critical areas of seafood safety will be studied in the project, says Levin. First, a group of microbiologists will develop strategies for the detection, control, and prevention of biological hazards within the nation''s seafood supply. According to Levin, bacteria can contaminate fish and shellfish in their natural environments, during processing, or during preparation. Guidelines developed by UMass researchers will help the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) assess the probability, contributing factors, and effective prevention of disease outbreaks.

Second, scientists will survey data currently collected by the seafood industry, as required by the FDA, and will develop guidelines for that agency''s Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point regulations. These regulations are designed to help the seafood industry produce safe, economically viable products.

According to Fergus Clydesdale, head of the food science department and member of the federal Food Safety Oversight Commission of the National Research Council, the Safe Seafood Project will draw on the significant expertise within the department, which includes researchers in microbiology and industry-related computer modeling. The UMass food science department maintains its own marine research facility in Gloucester, Mass., as well as 25 food-science laboratories in Amherst. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome recently recognized the UMass food science department as a Center of Excellence, says Clydesdale.

"By combining our expertise in food science and information science, we will be able to provide the FDA with sound, relevant scientific data concerning safe seafood," explains Clydesdale.