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Seafood Technology

  • The University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension Program, housed at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), assists local businesses with the development of procedures that maximize the quality, safety, and profitability of seafood products through the use of applied research, certified training, and educational materials.  New and innovative extension activities, therefore, have been established in response to some of the immediate needs and challenges of the seafood industry.  Adding economic value to seafood, ensuring the safety of aquacultured products, and guaranteeing seafood safety and quality are project goals that have guided program efforts since 2005. 

    Adding Economic Value to Seafood 

    The Maryland seafood industry is comprised of numerous small, independent companies that lack processing and product development expertise.  Via the UM/Sea Grant Extension Program, in 2010 five new Maryland crab processing companies implemented procedures for successfully processing fresh crabmeat.  Three of the five plants were licensed; the other two licensures are pending approval. 

    To improve the profitability of seafood processing operations, the UM/Sea Grant Extension Program assisted Maryland seafood companies with procedures for adding value to commodity items.  Other companies were assisted individually with procedures for packaging and processing crabmeat, oysters, marinade, and soups.

    Another industry challenge has to do with the fact that Maryland crabmeat products are processed and marketed today much like they were 40 years ago.  Most of the traditional companies are poorly positioned to adapt to changing market trends and customer demands.  In 2009, therefore, a collaboration with Virginia Tech researchers that was initiated the previous year was continued.  Funded by an MCE seed grant and the Virginia Sea Grant Program, the collaboration included formal evaluations of alternative packaging systems for fresh and pasteurized seafoods and shelf-life studies. Study findings were shared with the seafood industry. Maryland seafood processors were also assisted with an evaluation of cryogenic freezing as an alternative to pasteurization for extended storage.  

    Safety of Aquacultured Products 

    Each year, the U.S. imports (mostly from Asia) approximately $14 billion in seafood products, of which shrimp (largely aquacultured) accounts for 29%, far surpassing domestic supplies.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has identified problems with residues and pathogens, especially antibiotics and Salmonella, on aquacultured seafoods from several major producing countries.  These problems have been difficult to address through regulatory enforcement alone, so the agency contacted University of Maryland for assistance.

    In 2005, the UM/Sea Grant Extension Program led an initiative for the Joint Institute of Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN) to develop an international train-the-trainer program in Good Aquaculture Practices (GAqPs).  A course was designed to identify and control food safety hazards associated with aquacultured seafoods, especially those exported to the U.S.  The course has been held in Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia to date, with the most recent course having been held in China spring 2011.  New in 2010, an advanced course was developed and offered at UMES for 10 nationally identified lead trainers from Bangladesh.  The course addresses hurdles to the implementation of appropriate control measures, with educational strategies and tools for targeting specific aquaculture sectors in the exporting country. 

    The CFSAN Director s Special Citation Award was given to the GAqPs training team in 2010, from the Office of the Center Director, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, for leadership in fostering effective partnerships to improve the safety of aquacultured foods imported into the United States and consumed globally. 

    Seafood Safety and Quality 

    The blue crab industry must process their products under tight sanitary controls to meet safety, quality, and regulatory requirements.  The industry, however, does not have the laboratories or trained personnel to evaluate the effectiveness of their sanitation programs.  Certain pathogens, residues, and filth in imported aquacultured products, resulting in product detentions, trade issues, and economic loss for U.S. importers, have been identified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

    Under the UM/Sea Grant Extension Program, the sanitary condition of products and processing surfaces are determined and communicated to industry.  In 2009, 147 industry reports, representing approximately 3,500 test procedures, were prepared and mailed to participating processors detailing the microbiological status of their operations, implications, and recommended corrections.  Microbiological testing was performed at UMES Food Science and Technology labs.

    For 2008 and 2009, companies participating in the Maryland Crabmeat Quality Assurance Program (MCQAP), a voluntary program overseen by UM Sea Grant Extension, experienced no significant microbiological problems, with no incidence of Listeria either in finished products or any plant environment samples.  This indicated that employee hygiene and the sanitary condition of processing surfaces significantly improved compared to previous years.  Findings were presented to the industry at a Seafood Marketing Advisory Commission meeting.  The number of processing plants participating in the MCQAP increased from 12 in 2009 to 15 in 2010.  During the 2010 season, the MCQAP again isolated Listeria from several participating Maryland crab processing plants. The cause appeared to be both environmental (a weather related pattern seen previously) and the plants reversion to older, less expensive cleaning compounds as an austerity measure.  UM/Sea Grant Extension will work closely with industry in 2011 to reestablish and document control of this important microorganism.

    For more information:  

    Dr.  Catherine C. Liu
    Food Science & Technology Center, Rm 2115
    University of Maryland Eastern Shore
    Princess Anne, MD 21853
    Voice: (410) 651-6636
    Fax: (410) 651-7656