purred by the success of efforts by N.C. State University scientists to guarantee a safe seafood supply for our state, a new food safety program someday might be coming to a grocery near you.
When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the seafood industry, mandated the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point food safety monitoring system in 1997, N.C. State Universityís seafood laboratory took a lead role in educating our stateís seafood processors about the resulting new regulations. The seafood laboratory is a component of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciencesí food science department.
"Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) are the foundation on which a strong HACCP system rests," says Barry Nash, North Carolina Sea Grant seafood technologist and marketing specialist. "HACCP deals with three kinds of hazards: microbiological, chemical and physical. But even a good sanitation program with GMPs canít deal with problems such as sulfites on shrimp or naturally occuring histamines, to which some people are allergic. HACCP procedures include checks for such problems."
HACCP, Nash says, is a tool that allows processors to control health hazards that could cause foodborne illnesses. Traditionally, processors tested random samples of finished product to detect quality and safety problems. But searching for defects or hazards after food had been processed was inefficient.
Processors realized it was better to control the introduction of a hazard to food while it was being manufactured. HACCP allows processors to focus their attention on manufacturing, where the food hazards are most likely to be introduced and where processors can catch a safety problem before it reaches the consumer.
HACCP regulations affect domestic seafood processors, repackers and warehousers and foreign importers, he says.
How does the traditionally independent-minded seafood industry take to the new regulations?
"Businesses find the paperwork cumbersome," says Nash, who works in Morehead City at the seafood laboratory. "But we remind them that detailed documentation is their assurance and proof that they are handling their seafood safely. Should a consumer ever claim that a processorís product made him ill, the processor will have the paperwork to show that the seafood in question was properly manufactured."
And Nash says heís noticed that people in the seafood industry comply with HACCP not just because itís the law, but because they want to do whatís right for their customers.
"I think thatís admirable," he says.
The seafood laboratory has conducted all HACCP training workshops along North Carolinaís coast for government agency inspectors and seafood producers, Nash says.
"Seafood laboratory personnel also work one-on-one with processors who need help developing a HACCP plan," he says. "We have done that primarily through workshops, but we also go into the field to reach people who need help but havenít requested it. State and federal inspectors also refer to the lab processors who need HACCP assistance.
"HACCP can be intimidating," Nash notes. "We try to break it down to bite-sized chunks using brochures that focus on key principles in the workshop manuals. We teach the seven principles of HACCP, how to devise a plan. We show actual models, a flow chart, a hazards analysis, a HACCP work sheet and sample record."
Nash and seafood laboratory director Dr. David Green, a North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service seafood specialist, have co-authored two HACCP manuals: "A Self-Guide to HACCP Inspection," and "Model Safety Plans," both for small seafood dealers, packers and processors.
On one site visit, Nash and Greg Bolton, seafood laboratory seafood technology specialist, visited Norman Seafood Inc. in Oriental, where the Norman family seems to have HACCPís record-keeping drill down pat.
The Normansí crab-picking operation employs 50 people, many of them Mexican nationals. Workers like Gloria Orrantia, of Sinaloa, Mexico, process up to 45 pounds of crabmeat in eight hours, after the proper HACCP training, of course.
Sandra Wing, sister of Brantley Norman Jr., an N.C. State alumnus and one of the businessís co-owners, is a major player in the family business. She realized early on that the food safety burden of proof has shifted from government to private industry. She carefully and regularly fills out stacks of required HACCP documents and makes sure the companyís strict sanitation rules are enforced.
"When the FDA came in before HACCP to inspect," says Wing, "they had to confirm visually that everything was being done. Now they can check the records. Itís a totally different, less intimidating FDA."
The Normans diversified their business by opening a small but busy, fresh local seafood market next door to their crab-picking site.
Whatís the future for HACCP?
"Itís working well on the producersí end," says technologist Bolton. "And it might not be long before grocery stores are using HACCP training principles."
The seafood labís operational support is provided through the Cooperative Extension Service, North Carolina Agricultural Research Service and North Carolina Sea Grant, as well as grants, contracts and industry support.
The lab, now in the state Division of Marine Fisheries building in Morehead City, is scheduled to move in late spring ó just a mulletís jump down Bogue Soundís shoreline to the new 51,000 square-foot Center for Marine Sciences and Technology building. The CMAST building will be occupied by several N.C. State University departments, including N.C. Sea Grant Advisory Services and N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, as well as Carteret Community College.