In Alabama’s seafood industry, we take pride in our work. And that means following the strictest possible safety standards when it comes to harvesting, processing, and serving our product.
As we say here on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, we wouldn’t serve you anything that we wouldn’t serve our own families.
“Alabama stacks up very well [compared to other states],” said Chris Nelson, Vice President of Bon Secour Fisheries in Bon Secour. “Most states have both federal and state inspection of all seafood processors, so at that level the industry regulations for safety and wholesomeness are standardized.”
On the federal level, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for the safety of all U.S. seafood products. As of 1997, they’ve adopted a preventative system of food safety controls called the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), a rigorous inspection process that involves a great deal of monitoring and record keeping.
On the state level, Alabama agencies serve several roles. This includes managing fisheries up to three miles from the shore, inspecting food processing plants and distributors, monitoring food retailers based on the Model Food Code (MFC), and conducting HACCP inspections under contract with the FDA. The safety protocol is enforced once Gulf seafood product is caught and brought to a packing or processing facility.
Certain Gulf products have their own specific safety standards to follow as well. Alabama shellfish follow the guidelines recommended by the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC), and Gulf oysters in particular are beholden to stricter regulations than other products. Harvesting is heavily regulated based on whether the harvest waters are open or closed due to water quality, and based on time to temperature standards to control the growth of pathogens.
“Oysters, because they are often eaten raw and whole, are by far our most highly regulated seafood product—and likely the most highly regulated food product in the world,” said Nelson. “And Alabama is more stringent with time to temperature refrigeration standards [for oysters] than any of the other oyster-producing states.”
When considering the safety standards that Alabama’s seafood products consistently meet, it’s important to keep in mind that imported product isn’t always meeting the same grades. Food inspection authorities in Canada, Mexico, Chile, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and some European countries are comparable to ours, but many others are not.
“Many foreign countries have lower food safety standards than those of the U.S.,” said Nelson. “Only a small fraction of imported product is tested for wholesomeness and safety upon its entry into U.S. markets.”
As you can see, harvesting and processing and serving fresh, safe product is our top priority here in Alabama. That’s why we call it “genuine goodness.” So next time you see local or Gulf product on the menu at your neighborhood restaurant or local market, you know you’re getting the good stuff.