How Safe Is Your Seafood?

Pile Of Fish
Arthur Kloak is a buyer for the Boston-based restaurant chain Legal Seafood, and he checks haddock right off the boat.

He does this because Legal Seafood is not just a restaurant. Under the law it's also a fish processor. All fish processors are subject to a national food safety system called HACCP, reports CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

"HACCP, that means that they're taking in the fish, that they're following all the critical control points of handling the fish, making sure that it's refrigerated," said Kloak.

Technically, HACCP is alphabet soup for Hazard Analysis, Critical Control Points, an ocean to table checkpoint program.

The 7 Principles of HACCP
  • Conduct a hazard analysis.
  • Determine the critical control points (CCPs).
  • Establish critical limits.
  • Establish monitoring procedures.
  • Establish corrective actions.
  • Establish verification procedures.
  • Establish record-keeping and documentation procedures.
    Source: FDA
  • "It's a monitoring system all the way through," said Roger Berkowitz, Legal's president. He helped the government develop HACCP. Processors have mandatory guidelines for temperature control, cleanliness and testing for germs and poisons.

    "You can absolutely safeguard the public," said Berkowitz. Asked if the fact that he's eliminated these risks proves it can be done, he said, "Absolutely."

    Despite all the known risks of seafood, everything from exotic toxins to simple spoilage, it may be that seafood is the least inspected food in America.

    The GAO Report
    he General Accounting Office released a report today, finding that fewer than half of U.S. seafood firms are following federal safety standards to make sure Americans don't get bad fish.
    In a blistering report out Tuesday, the General Accounting Office says only 44 percent of the nation's seafood processors follow HAACP. GAO blames the Food and Drug Administration, the agency responsible for seafood, citing "serious weaknesses" in FDA's inspections, and said when the FDA found serious violations, the agency "did not take timely action."

    Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, a member of the Agriculture Committee, was asked if that is an acceptable record. "Absolutely not. Less than half of the plants under FDA's jurisdiction even comply with the law," said Harkin.

    FDA Tips
    The FDA has set up guidelines to help you choose, store, prepare and cook seafood.
    Harkin sees a connection between thousands of illnesses every year and FDA's poor enforcement. "The American people right now are highly vulnerable to getting sick from eating shellfish and seafood."

    To be fair, the FDA only has 300 food inspectors to inspect all seafood, produce, eggs and juice. The USDA by contrast has 7,000 for beef and poultry. Harkin blames Congress for the imbalance.

    "We've not funded FDA the way it should be funded. We've not held their feet to the fire on inspecting food," Harkin said.

    Back at Legal Seafood, Roger Berkowitz does not believe HACCP would be all that tough to implement. Asked what the FDA is not doing that it should be doing, Berkowitz said, "Holding more people in compliance. I think they want to, but I don't think they have the force."

    HACCP is designed to let the industry police itself, under FDA supervision. The GAO says the FDA's failure to crack down on unsanitary operators puts consumers at risk.

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    • David Hancock

      David Hancock is a home page editor for