NEWPORT - Like their counterparts across the nation, Oregon seafood processors face a December deadline to comply with new federal regulations aimed at ensuring that America's seafood supply is safe and fit to eat.
The industry should be ready, an Oregon State University seafood specialist predicts, thanks to the efforts of an alliance of educators, government agencies and trade groups pulled together three years ago by the National Sea Grant College Program.
That alliance is being honored this month with a Hammer Award from Vice President Al Gore, in recognition of its "significant contribution to the nation."
Ken Hilderbrand, an OSU Extension Sea Grant seafood specialist, has been part of the alliance since its inception in 1994, soon after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced plans to apply Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (or HACCP) standards to seafood.
HACCP lays out seven principles for food processors, intended to ensure food safety from the point of harvest to the consumer's table. Among other things, the system identifies critical points in the processing chain at which potential hazards can be controlled or eliminated.
The principles require careful planning, record-keeping and monitoring, all backed by sound scientific information.
Instead of relying on after-the-fact food inspections to make sure food is wholesome, the new system looks at food processing every step of the way, including shipping, warehousing and overseas imports. FDA Commissioner David Kessler called HACCP "the most fundamental shift in the way we think about inspecting food in the past 50 years."
Federal law set a Dec. 18, 1997, deadline for HACCP to be in use by all processors engaged in interstate seafood commerce. At that point, the local, state and federal agencies which monitor seafood safety will begin checking for HACCP compliance. (Similar plans for the beef and poultry industries are to be phased in by the year 2000)
Putting such a system in place is a massive national - and even international - undertaking. That was evident to seafood specialists with the National Sea Grant College Program, which provides university-based marine research, education and outreach in 29 coastal and Great Lakes states, including Oregon.
The Sea Grant network helped pull together the National Seafood HACCP Alliance, with representation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative Extension services, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Fisheries Institute, National Food Processors Association, Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference, the Association of Food and Drug Officials, and various state agencies that deal with health, food safety and commerce.
Their goal: To develop a uniform, national HACCP education, training and technical assistance program for the seafood industry and those who are charged with inspecting their products.
Hilderbrand, who serves on the Alliance's steering committee, says most of the pieces of that program are in place, including:
- A national HACCP training curriculum for seafood safety inspectors. Assembled and distributed by the North Carolina Sea Grant program, the 200-plus page guide has been translated into four languages and more than 6,000 copies have been sold in the U.S. and abroad.
- An HACCP training and certification program to "train the trainers" who in turn teach HACCP procedures to seafood industry workers, regulators and seafood safety inspectors. The program has already certified more than 400 trainers who have gone on to teach an additional 5,000 people in the industry, regulatory agencies and academia.
- A list of seafood safety-related questions which need additional scientific attention - "the things we need to know that could help the industry do a better job of implementing their mandated HACCP plans," Hilderbrand said. That list, compiled by an Alliance subcommittee he chaired, has been distributed to various agencies which support ocean and coastal research.
- A series of "generic" HACCP plans, written by Hilderbrand and other Sea Grant specialists around the country, designed to serve as models for processors who need help drafting their own plans. To speed circulation of the medels, and make it possible to update and refine them quickly, the Alliance has mounted them on its World Wide Web site at