New Group of Students Trained in Seafood Safety

Nancy Balcom teaches a class at UConn Avery Point in seafood safety
Photo: Judy Benson

Before a bowl of clam chowder or a freshly grilled swordfish steak ends up on a restaurant diner’s plate, specially trained seafood handlers will have been working to eliminate any risk of contamination or hazards that could cause illness.

Many of those handlers will have learned their skills in training offered by Connecticut Sea Grant, including a three-day course held in September of 2017. The three days of training took place at the Avery Point campus of UConn. There, 22 seafood processors, wholesalers and dealers in products ranging from sushi to oysters to soups learned how to identify and control hazards associated with fish and shellfish to keep the public safe and their businesses running smoothly. Completion of the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) classes are required by a 1997 federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulation.

“Any wholesale seafood company has to have at least one HACCP-trained person,” said Nancy Balcom, associate director of Connecticut Sea Grant and co-teacher of the class with Lori Pivarnik, coordinator of food safety outreach and the food safety education program at the University of Rhode Island. While students in the recent class came from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York, previous classes have drawn from outside the Northeast.

After completing the nationally standardized course developed by the Seafood HACCP Alliance of seafood scientists, regulators and industry members, students receive a certificate of training completion from the Association of Food and Drug Officials. They then go back to their workplaces to write site-specific plans for potential seafood safety hazards for the products they handle, applying HACCP principles, Balcom said.

She said HACCP plans are then implemented by each company to manage and minimize the risk of seafoodborne illnesses. Training 75 to 100 seafood processors and

students at the seafood safety course
Photo: Judy Benson

regulators each year, Balcom said she and Pivarnik have trained more than 2,000 individuals in the application of HACCP principles over the past 20 years. Sessions are offered alternately between Avery Point and URI in Narragansett. No exam is given to students at the end of the class, but they build experience developing plans for different seafood products as a group exercise to help them immediately apply what they learn once they return to their own businesses. That is in everyone’s best interest. “The test comes when the FDA comes in and inspects them,” Balcom said.

Balcom and Pivarnik team up to teach the three day standardized class for industry and regulators, as well as a one-day practical course that, in combination with an online course offered through Cornell University, also meets the FDA training requirement. Since 1999, Balcom has offered eight equivalent HACCP training courses specifically for Connecticut shellfishermen under the auspices of the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference—the only trainer to do so. Connecticut’s shellfish harvesters are all licensed as seafood dealers, so they fall under the FDA HACCP regulation.

Finally, since 2001, as a School to Career offering, Balcom has taught the standardized industry course 13 times for senior high school students at The Sound School in New Haven, Lyman Hall High School in Wallingford, Bridgeport Regional Aquaculture Science and Technology Education Center (BRASTEC) and Grasso Tech in Groton, training 291 students who focus primarily on aquaculture.

The newest group afforded that opportunity were the 17 students from Lyman Hall and Sound School who gathered at the New Haven campus over four days this spring. The HACCP certification training is part of the requirements for Sound School seniors taking the Shellfish Production course.

“It provides a school-to-career opportunity for them,” Balcom said. “Whether they go on to college or start working for industry, the knowledge gained in the class will serve them well. It will make them more viable candidates for working in the seafood industry.”

Article by Judy Benson

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