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Win With The Fishes

CBS News This Morning medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay gave us this report on seafood poisoning.

Worried that some bad fish can make you sick? Dr. Michael Friedman, acting Food and Drug Administration commissioner, confirms that seafood contamination can occur at any point in the trip from the deep blue to the table top. But, there is good news.

Says Friedman, "I believe that seafood, when properly caught, stored, transported, prepared and consumed, when all those steps take place, then it is safe."

Obviously, unless you are a fisherman or in the fish business, most of these steps are out of your control. Still, you can still learn to literally look a dead fish in the eye to see if it poses a threat.

First, a little background. While there are no hard and fast numbers, the F.D.A. estimates that each year, more than 100,000 people get sick after eating bad fish. There are many steps involved in getting the fish from its home to yours.

And, "If any one of those steps break down, then the chance of having ill consumers occurs," says Friedman.

Seafood is vulnerable to pollution, viruses, bacteria, and even natural toxins that emerge if fish is not properly chilled. All of these can cause serious food poisoning.

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration implemented stricter measures at fish processing plants designed to prevent contaminated fish from getting to the marketplace.

Now, for the first time, foreign fish plants - the source of half of all the seafood consumed in the United States - will have to meet the new safety standards.

(In January, the food safety program will expand to cover meat and other foods.)

The old system was more reactive, with spot checks for safety.

The new rules focus on prevention, individualized for each food processor and their specific fish product. Thus, tuna cannot be on a boat too long and must be properly chilled. A crabmeat plant that pre-cooks the fish must prove to the F.D.A. that they cook it at a hot enough temperature and refrigerate it immediately afterwards to prevent bacterial growth.

While government regulations are comforting, they are not foolproof. Luckily, there are also precautions you can take to protect yourself.

-Buy seafood that is properly chilled;
-Look for fish with clear, bright eyes;
-Check that scales are shiny and cling to the skin;
-Make sure that there is only a slight odor, not a "fishy" smell;
-Refrigerate it immediately, and,
-Use it within three days.

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