By: Ashley Eisenbeiser, MS, CFS, Director, Food and Product Safety Programs, Food Marketing Institute
Historically, catfish food safety inspection fell under the responsibility of the FDA (along with all other seafood) until Congress, in the 2008 Farm Bill, directed USDA to develop an inspection process and regulate catfish processing. The 2008 Farm Bill amended the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) to include “Catfish” as an amenable species, under FSIS’s jurisdiction. FSIS sought public comments for the scope of the definition of “catfish” in the proposed rule. The 2014 Farm Bill amended the FMIA to remove the term “catfish” and replace it with “all fish of the order Siluriformes” as being subject to FSIS jurisdiction and inspection. FSIS is now responsible for all wild caught and farm raised Siluriformes fish that are harvested and sold for human food in the U.S., including those imported into the United States.
The final rule, Mandatory Inspection of Fish of the Order Siluriformes and Products Derived From Such Fish, was published in the Federal Register on December 2, 2015 and the regulatory requirements of the final rule became effective 90 days from publication on March 1, 2016.
Over an 18-month transition period, inspection responsibility for Siluriformes fish and fish product facilities were transferred from the FDA to FSIS and FSIS began to implement the regulatory requirements of the rule. This transition period came to an end on September 1, 2017 and full enforcement of the requirements for harvesting, processing and selling Siluriformes fish and fish products under FSIS began.
Requirements for Retail
The requirements for catfish, specifically fish from the order Siluriformes, now fall under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). The requirements for Siluriformes fish and fish products are essentially the same as the requirements for red meat. Labels that are applied at retail establishments that are operating under the retail exemption to federal inspection must follow FSIS labeling requirements with the exception of the USDA mark of inspection. This includes the requirement for a Safe Handling Instruction Label on packages of Siluriformes fish that are not ready-to-eat.
However, there is slight difference with between Siluriformes fish products and meat products when it comes to the Safe Handling Instruction. In order to avoid customer confusion, during the rule making process, FSIS determined that language in the Safe Handling Instructions on Siluriformes fish labels of products that are not ready-to-eat should be specific to fish. Under 9 CFR 541.7 (c), the Safe Handling Instructions applied to Siluriformes fish and fish product labels must have the modified Safe Handling Instructions with language that is specific to fish, specifically replacing “meat and/or poultry” with the word “fish” in the three locations within the instructions.
The Safe Handling Instructions for Siluriformes fish and fish products should read:
Keep raw fish separate from other foods. Wash working surfaces (including cutting boards), utensils, and hands after touching raw fish. (A graphic illustration of soapy hands under a faucet shall be displayed next to statement.)
Since catfish products are rather low volume in retail stores, this slight modification to the Safe Handling Instruction has been a particular challenge for retailers as retail scale labels are programmed in a way that changing between ‘fish’ and ‘meat and poultry’ on the Safe Handling Instructions has been a challenge. FMI continues to work with USDA to communicate this challenge and has asked for practical solutions to be accepted.
USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service held a webinar in October 2017 for FMI Members to provide an overview of the new food safety requirements for harvesting, processing and selling catfish.
FSIS has published answers to Frequently Asked Questions on Siluriformes Fish and Fish Product.
For any questions about the requirements of this rule or assistance with inspection issues, contact FMI Food Safety at FoodSafetyTeam@fmi.org.