The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued guidance recommending certain seafood processors take steps to minimise risk of ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP).
The draft guidance recommends that primary seafood processors who purchase reef fish such as grouper, amberjack, snapper, lionfish, king mackerel, and barracuda take steps to minimize consumers' risk of CFP from the fish they distribute.
It recommends that primary seafood processors who purchase fish directly from fishermen obtain information about harvest locations to determine the potential for ciguatoxic fish based on knowledge of the regions where ciguatera occurs.
Primary seafood processors can minimize the risk of CFP by not purchasing fish that are likely to carry ciguatoxins, said the FDA.
“We have analyzed local fish populations in Florida, the US Virgin Islands, and the Flower Garden Banks of the Gulf of Mexico and found unsafe concentrations of ciguatoxin which could cause illnesses if consumed,” said the FDA.
CFP is caused by consuming fish that have eaten toxic marine algae or that have eaten other fish containing the toxins.
The onset of the illness usually occurs within six hours after consumption of toxic fish and generally subsides in several days to a few weeks.
The toxins accumulate in the flesh of reef dwelling fish, with higher CFP levels predominately found in predatory species, which are then harvested either commercially or by recreational fishermen.
The guidance complements existing advice on preventing CFP by identifying two species of lionfish as additional reef fish associated with the risk of CFP.
However, as of January 2013, there have been no reports of CFP illnesses associated with the consumption of lionfish, stated the agency.
FDA seafood HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) regulations, require seafood processors to conduct a hazard analysis of the potential food safety hazards that are reasonably likely to occur with the seafood products they process and to have and implement written HACCP plans to control all hazards identified in the hazard analysis.
Failure to meet the requirements of the seafood HACCP regulation will cause products to be adulterated under section 402(a)(4) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 342(a)(4)).
The agency said it would continue to assess the hazard of CFP and the application of seafood HACCP controls by seafood processors.
Comments on the draft guidance should be received by 28 May.