REPORT: ISO Standards Big Catch for Seafood Industry

The U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides the voluntary Seafood Inspection Program, which offers a variety of professional inspection services that assure compliance with all applicable food regulations.

To augment this volunteer program, regulators now required the implementation of two ISO standards, 9001, which addresses HACCP from a quality perspective, and 22000, the food safety management standard, in all approved facilities in the Seafood Inspection Program. The rating criteria and supporting documentation was finalized by May 2006. The matter of how best to implement these food safety and quality strategies is currently being determined in a series of meetings between industry and agency personne.1

While ISO implementation was equally embraced by industry and regulatory agencies, the logistics of that integration continue to bring debate over acceptance as well as how program participants located outside the United States would adjust. Although it is international in scope, many firms outside of the United States needed its implementation sooner rather than later.

The Global Seafood Community

Although figures vary, at least 60 percent and as much as 80 percent of the seafood products consumed in the United States are derived from imported products. In the case of shrimp, the figures indicate over 90 percent of the product consumed in the United States was imported. Imports cover numerous species, product forms, and levels of further processing. Many of the imports originate from countries varying highly in the infrastructure, capabilities, and food system controls.

As inspection of the process is more effective for a commodity than end-item inspection, these figures clearly provide evidence that inspection of seafood firms overseas would be indicated. Also, since similar figures are found in many other countries, whatever system is in place must meet international requirements and concerns, and it must also have strong integrity for acceptance by the consumer. This mandated adoption of internationally recognized system standards and, although CODEX Alimentarius had standardized trade between nations, the ISO had standardized the buyer-supplier relationship.

Voluntary Inspection

Perhaps the first step to implementation is to become familiar with the Seafood Inspection Program, which continues to offer product quality evaluation, grading and certification services on a product lot basis. Benefits include the ability to apply official marks, such as the U.S. Grade A, Processed Under Federal Inspection (PUFI), and lot inspection marks.

The services provided by the Seafood Inspection Program include the following:

  • Establishment/vessel sanitation inspection;
  • Process and product inspection and product grading;
  • Product lot inspection;
  • Laboratory analysis;
  • Training and consultation.

These services can be provided nationwide, in U.S. territories, and with the exception of product certification, in foreign countries as well. All types of establishments such as vessels, processing plants, and retail facilities may receive these services. All edible product forms ranging from whole fish to formulated products, as well as fish meal products used for animal foods, are eligible for inspection and certification. The official government forms and certificates issued by USDC inspectors are legal documents recognized in any U.S. court.

In fiscal year 2005, the Seafood Inspection Program inspected a total volume of 1.34 billion pounds of fish and fishery products. This represents approximately one-fifth of the seafood consumed in the United States.

Contracts for in-plant services numbered over 330, approximately 10 percent of the total processing establishments in the U.S. However, approximately 2,500 firms utilized the services of the program. All this was accomplished with a total budget of $17.9 million.

The Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 as amended provides the authority for the Seafood Inspection Program to provide its services. The act was established for the purpose of agricultural products, including fishery products “may be marketed to the best advantage, that trading may be facilitated, and that consumers may be able to obtain the quality product which they desire….”

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