CSPI calls on FDA to verify that firms are keeping hazards at bay

Consumers keep getting seriously ill from contaminated seafood because the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) seafood-safety program fails to test fish and shellfish for potentially deadly hazards, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Today the food-safety watchdog group petitioned the FDA to establish a mandatory testing program to ensure that hazards in seafood products are greatly reduced, rather than rely on an industry honor system.

“Mandatory government testing is needed to make a weak seafood-safety program stronger,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. “Seafood is a major cause of food poisoning, sickening more than 100,000 and causing dozens of preventable deaths each year.”

Seafood is the leading cause of reported foodborne-illness outbreaks where both the food and the hazard are identified, according to Outbreak Alert! 2002, a recent CSPI report. Scombrotoxin, a toxin that can develop in fresh tuna, mahi mahi, and other finfish that aren’t kept cold, and ciguatera, a toxin occurring in tropical reef fish like grouper and red snapper, are among the hazards that the FDA should test for, according to CSPI. CSPI’s petition also calls for testing for Listeria monocytogenes, methylmercury, and coliforms, as well as the dangerous Vibrio bacteria, which can contaminate raw oysters and other shellfish, especially those harvested from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

A recent FDA evaluation found that only 57 percent of the seafood industry currently has a hazards control program in place. Last year, congressional investigators criticized the FDA’s weak seafood-oversight program and recommended that the agency gather objective, measurable performance data. The FDA never implemented that advice, says CSPI.