Seafood Interest Group of the

Chemical Contaminants and Residues

in Food Community



Approved 1st Action - September 2014


The Seafood Initiative

The first step in developing new methods is often a critical and immediate need. When contaminants like melamine or residues of unapproved antibiotics are found in imported foods, the news spreads fast. Products are recalled! The public is alarmed! An urgent need arises for multi-national and multi-industry cooperation to resolve the problem. No one wants product recalls or headlines. It’s very, very expensive. Sometimes, especially in the case of international trade of food and agriculture, a good analytical method can be a bridge between two sides.
Currently, there are critical food safety issues with imported seafood. The United States, Japan, and Europe import a significant percentage of their seafood, and most of it is grown on aquaculture farms in tropical coastlines such as Thailand, China, Indonesia, Ecuador and Mexico. The food safety concerns involve chemical and biological issues; pesticides, antibiotics, speciation of fish, and bacterial pathogens. The stakeholders have identified the need for multi-drug residue method as one of their top priorities. Unfortunately, not all classes of veterinary drugs can be analyzed using the same methodology. For that reason, a group of methods may be necessary to cover all the important classes of analytes in seafood matrices.



Finding Consensus

The seafood initiative is designed to bring all parties affected by such a critical issue together to determine where analytical methods could be the most effective. A stakeholders’ meeting is a really good way to find out if what you’re doing, isolated in your lab, is the right thing.
State and federal regulators feel they need a “multi-antibiotic” method for testing seafood. There are so many antibiotics used, new ones being added to the list regularly, that they are constantly “playing catch-up”. They are not in a position to proactively address concerns about antibiotic contamination. A multipurpose method might keep them ahead of emerging problems.
The first seafood meeting included experts working with seafood in many capacities: suppliers, distributors, a large food distributor, retailers, restaurants, government, and the trade industry. Missing in this initial meeting but essential to ultimate success were representatives of seafood suppliers and aquaculture specialists. The question posed was not what they thought of a multi-antibiotic method but “What are your method needs?” Diverse needs were identified.
For one thing, a multi-antibiotic method might be useful, they agreed, but inspection is not the complete answer to their problems. Prevention is what will save everyone money, from suppliers to restaurants and retailers. No one wins when a shipment is shipped, at considerable expense, from Bangladesh to San Francisco and gets refused at the dock. Likewise, no one wins if there is an outbreak of seafood borne illness.
While antibiotics are a main concern, they are also worried about “fish substitution,” where an inexpensive species such as Vietnamese catfish is substituted for the more expensive grouper.
Food safety, especially against microbial pathogens such as V. parahaemolyticus and V. vulnificus, is of utmost importance.
The group talked a lot about when inspection should be done. They agreed that it needed to be done close to the source, preferably before exporting.


The first meeting saw much discussion on the need for a good rapid test kits that can be used at the point of production. At present, no kits have achieved the sensitivity or specificity to drug or their metabolites needed for drugs like chloramphenicol, nitrofurans, and malachite green.

The FDA argues that the drugs being found in seafood pose a potential for human health hazards, which is why they are prohibited in most of the world. Detection at the lowest possible level is therefore essential. FDA points out a misunderstanding over use of commercially available rapid test kits. Faster does not always mean better. Rapid test kits do not have the accuracy, sensitivity, or specificity to match what the FDA can achieve with the methods they use in their laboratories using instrumentation such as triple quad liquid chromatography mass spectrophotometry (LC/MS). Test kits are only qualitative tests. If a kit detects an antibiotic, it is likely to be present. If it does not, a confirmatory test, by a more accurate and sensitive method may find the antibiotic present. If a kit is used to inspect seafood, the shipment may be held up later because of a positive laboratory test result. Kit manufacturers and regulators may need to educate users of kits on the implications of positive and negative findings.


last updated: 11-19-2014, jmc        
webmaster: Jo Marie Cook