and vitamins (NRC, 1989).

Although the attributes of seafood attract a more health conscious consumer, they also enforce expectations for enhanced safety. Consumer consciousness of seafood safety issues has become, as a result, increasingly important. Pollution and environmental issues have further focused people's attention on contamination problems. Concurrent media coverage and public interest groups have heightened the demand for rigorous safety standards in the food industry (Haas et al., 1986; Newton, 1989).

Unlike meat and poultry, which are derived from domesticated sources, the majority of the edible seafood supply in the United States, approximately 12.0 billion pounds including domestic landings and imports in round weight equivalents, was harvested from wild populations in 1989 (NMFS, 1990). The aquacultured portion of this supply is predicted to increase from both foreign and domestic sources (Redmayne, 1989), and recorded commercial landings are further supplemented by a growing portion of recreationally caught seafood destined for consumption.

Because the supplies of many seafoods are relatively small and regional, large numbers of individuals, using a variety of vessels that range from small boats to large factory ships, are involved. The seafood harvesting industry is highly fragmented. The diversity of the industry, the seasonal nature of fishing, the complexity of fish processing operations, and the substantial amount of seafood caught recreationally (600 million pounds of finfish and 300 million pounds of shellfish) make it difficult to manage and regulate these living resources (NOAA, 1990).

Both finfish and shellfish are subjected to contamination and cross-contamination in their natural habitat, as well as at any point during handling, processing, distribution, or preparation (Haas et al., 1986; Newton, 1989; NOAA, 1990). Seafood-borne illness has been reported due to natural toxins, microbial contamination, parasites, poor seafood handling, and chemical contaminants (CDC, 1981a-c, 1983a,b, 1984, 1985, 1989; FDA, 1989). Because of the primary reliance on limited data-reporting systems via state departments of public health, and eventually the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the extent of the public health risk due to cumulative exposure to microorganisms, natural toxins, and chemical contaminants cannot be assessed easily, especially in the context of total dietary exposure. Given this qualification, current data indicate a decrease in the reported incidents of illness from seafood relative to consumption.

The committee has critically examined and evaluated the degree of severity of illnesses, their significance, and the extent of possible health risks involved. Its findings are documented in subsequent chapters of this report.


In 1989, commercial and recreational fishermen harvested more than 8.5 billion pounds of fish and shellfish from U.S. waters, which includes edible and industrial products. More than 300 major species of seafood were marketed, reflecting the diversity of the resource base (NMFS, 1990). Over 4,000 processing and distribution plants handled the commercial products of the nation's 256,000 fishermen. Almost 95,000 boats and vessels constituted the fleet (NMFS, 1990).

Although commercial establishments are easily documented, the number of

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement