Is Our Seafood Safe?
Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent
Is Seafood from the Gulf Coast bought in Florida retail stores safe to eat?
Fish at market Photo Credits: NOAA
Yes. All seafood in Florida retail stores, supermarkets, and restaurants will remain safe to eat. Traditional food safety controls have been supplemented with additional emergency measures to ensure that seafood that reaches these businesses will not be contaminated by oil. Control measures include: Monitoring harvest waters and products and precautionary closures of certain waters and fisheries when oil contamination becomes a risk, analytical and sensory monitoring of seafood products, and public advisories.
Federal waters closed to fishing as of July 13th. The area is updated regularly so check for current closures. Photo Credits: NOAA
How are seafood products tested for oil contamination?
Standard analytical tests using sophisticated laboratory equipment are used to detect a variety of potential chemical contaminants that could be found in water, sediments, and seafood that have been exposed to oil. Special sensory methods have also been developed to detect certain smells associated with oil. Trained experts can then be used to detect these aromas in a way that is very cost effective and faster than the analytical methods. Used in combination they have proven to be very effective measures for ensuring product safety.
What are the typical contaminants found in seafood exposed to oil?
The most common contaminants associated with oil are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). Very low levels are common throughout our environment including our food supply. No recorded illnesses due to PAH exposures at the low levels normally encountered within our environment but elevated levels will require controls to prevent excessive exposure. Based on prior experience with other oil spills, safety guidelines have been established for PAHS. The guidelines are based on highly sensitive analytical detection at contamination levels as low as parts per billion. Federal and state authorities will use these guidelines to make decisions about the harvest of seafood to ensure the seafood safety of harvested fish and shell fish. Seafood that reaches the market from the Gulf of Mexico will be safe from oil contamination.
Should I eat Seafood that I catch myself?
If local waters become contaminated, state authorizes will try to restrict local harvest and recreational activities to waters that are not contaminated. Pay attention to local public advisories posted and broadcast through many agencies, stations and televised news. Progressive fishery closure updates will be posted on http://dep.state.fl.us/deepwaterhorizon/closures.htm.
Recreational fishermen should avoid areas of obvious contamination on the surface of the water. Do not eat fish that look distressed, are behaving in a strange manner, or have been found dead. Any seafood with an oily fuel like odor, either raw or cooked, should not be cooked, and should be reported to the authorities.
Will all seafood exposed to oil remain contaminated?
Once waters are clean again, many marine animals can gradually purge themselves of oil contaminants. The rate at which they can clean themselves can vary from days to months depending on the amount and type of oil they are exposed to, and the metabolism of the particular animals. The contamination levels will be monitored by authorities before, during and after, to make sure the animals are safe to eat before they allow commercial and recreational harvest.