Seafood Safety:

Seriousness of Problems and Efforts to Protect Consumers

RCED-88-135: Published: Aug 10, 1988. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the nature, extent, and seriousness of consumer-related problems with seafood, focusing on: (1) the safety of seafood for human consumption; (2) misrepresentation in seafood packaging; and (3) government programs addressing the issue.

GAO found that: (1) the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) data on food-related illnesses between 1978 and 1984 showed that about 5 percent were seafood cases; (2) in 1986, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that, although 29 percent of 6,528 seafood samples it analyzed did not comply with federal regulations for contaminants and proper labelling, they did not pose a direct threat to human health; (3) although the seafood industry is not subject to mandatory federal inspections, federal and state agencies conducted safety-related inspections, data gathering, and research activities in an effort to monitor seafood; and (4) although experts believed that seafood safety problems did not require major federal program changes, they emphasized the need to improve tests for microbiological pathogens and increased research on chemical contamination and human illness. GAO believes that, although there is no compelling reason to implement a comprehensive, mandatory federal seafood inspection program, there is a need for: (1) continued support for the development of the seafood surveillance model, research on chemical contaminants, and tests of shellfish-growing waters; and (2) increased public awareness of the risks associated with eating raw shellfish.

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