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Safe Harbor® Testing & Standards
How We Test for Mercury
These charts identify Safe Harbor® testing methodology and mercury certification standards for each species of fish and shellfish we test. There are two ways Safe Harbor® tests fish: testing each individual fish and batch testing.
Safe Harbor® tests the following fish individually and certifies that each will not exceed the maximum mercury concentration level identified for each species:
|Species||Safe Harbor® mercury standard (ppm)||Species||Safe Harbor® mercury standard (ppm)|
|Amberjack||0.5||Sablefish (Cod, Black)||0.8|
|Halibut (20# and up)||0.5||Spearfish||0.8|
|Ono (Wahoo)||0.5||Tuna, Big Eye||0.8|
|Sea Bass, Chilean||0.5|
|Tuna, Albacore (Tombo)||0.5|
|Tuna, Yellowfin (Ahi)||0.5|
Safe Harbor® tests the following fish using a batch testing method based on an industry-standard sampling algorithm. This method is typically used on low-mercury fish and provides at least a 95 percent probability that tested fish will be below the mercury concentration level identified for that species:
|Species||Safe Harbor® mercury standard (ppm)||Species||Safe Harbor® mercury standard (ppm)|
|Arctic Char||0.1||Bass, Black||0.5|
|Perch, Lake||0.1||Cod, Pacific||0.5|
|Salmon, Atlantic||0.1||Cod, True||0.5|
|Salmon, Norwegian||0.1||Dory, John||0.5|
|Shellfish, Clams||0.1||Halibut (10 - 20#)||0.5|
|Shellfish, Oysters||0.1||Perch, Ocean||0.5|
Through natural and anthropogenic processes, fish, shellfish and crustaceans bioaccumulate mercury in their bodies most often in the form of methylmercury, a highly toxic organic compound of mercury. When mercury finds its way into the water, it's absorbed by algae at the start of the food chain. This algae is then eaten by fish and other organisms higher in the food chain. Anything which eats these fish within the food chain also consumes the higher level of mercury the fish have accumulated. This process explains why predatory fish such as swordfish, sharks and blue marlin have higher concentrations of mercury in their tissue than could be accounted for by direct exposure alone. Species high up on the food chain can amass body concentrations of mercury up to ten times higher than the species they consume. This process is called biomagnification. Because humans are at the very top of the food chain, the biomagnification of mercury in the body can occur at levels that can pose serious adverse health risks.
Safe Harbor® standards identify the maximum level of mercury concentration allowed in each species of fish sold with the Safe Harbor® seal. Safe Harbor® certification standards vary by species since each species contains different average levels of mercury. Our standards are reported in parts per million (ppm), which is how the government measures the mercury concentration in fish. The FDA action level for mercury in all seafood is 1.0 ppm.
Certain species of fish such as swordfish, shark, blue marlin, king mackerel and even certain species of tuna are known to be higher in mercury on average, while some other types of fish are known to be generally lower in mercury. The Safe Harbor® certification does not mean that fish known to be higher in mercury are completely safe for pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and small children. The FDA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise these groups not to eat swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish and certain types of tuna, and to considerably limit consumption of fish that are lower in mercury. For more information about mercury in fish, consult your physician and refer to our resources section.
Understanding Tested Mercury Levels in Seafood
Mercury levels in seafood are commonly reported as mercury concentration, measured in parts per million (ppm). Micro Analytical Systems, Inc. (MASI) tests all Safe Harbor Seafood® at processing facilities before it is delivered to retailers and restaurants. The mercury level that MASI measures is based on the mercury concentration in the fish at the time the test is performed. However, seafood typically loses some moisture between the time the fish leaves the processing facility and when it is consumed. This moisture loss may cause the mercury in the fish to become more concentrated. So although the total amount of mercury in any given fish does not change over time, later testing of the fish may show a higher concentration due to moisture loss.
How We Test Fish For Mercury
To test fish and seafood for mercury, MASI has developed a mercury analyzer that uses advanced, proprietary technology to precisely measure the amount of mercury in fish. A MASI technician at the harvesting, processing or distribution level takes a small sample from a piece of fish and inserts it into the MASI Multi-species Mercury Analyzer, which quickly analyzes it for mercury content. Fish that meet Safe Harbor® standards are labeled with the Safe Harbor seal and distributed to retail outlets and restaurants that prominently display the Safe Harbor seal.
In order to ensure accuracy, the MASI mercury analyzer is regularly calibrated using reference materials checked against standards set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. MASI tests more seafood for mercury each year than any other company or government agency in the world.
What Is It?
Histamine is a product of decomposition caused by the growth of certain bacteria in seafood. In most cases histamine is a product of spoilage due to time and temperature abuse usually as a result of improper handling, temperature control and elevated levels of histamine producing bacteria in the marine environment. Fish containing high levels of histamine have been associated with many instances of poisoning commonly referred to as "scombroid poisoning," a major health problem for consumers. Scombrotoxic fish usually contains levels of histamine in excess of 200 ppm but such fish may be randomly dispersed within a lot. For large fish, histamine is found at variable levels even within individual fish. Quality control measures designed to minimize the occurrence of scombrotoxic fish require the determination of histamine levels in the range of approximately 10 to 200 ppm. The defect action level (DAL), the level at which regulatory actions are taken, for histamine is 50 ppm.
How We Test for Histamine
MASI utilizes the competitive ELISA (Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) method intended for the screening of histamine in scombroid species of fish. The ELISA method is a biochemical technique used to detect the presence of an antibody or an antigen in a sample. In simple terms, in ELISA, an unknown amount of antigen is affixed to a surface, and then a specific antibody is applied over the surface so that it can bind to the antigen. This antibody is linked to an enzyme, and in the final step a substance is added that the enzyme can convert to some detectable signal, most commonly a color change in a chemical substrate. Testing takes approximately 45 minutes whereas other conventional testing measures take 48 hours at minimum.
Total histamine concentration in any given sample shall not exceed 50 ppm.
Bacterial Pathogens (Listeria mono., E. coli & Salmonella)
What Are They?
Pathogens are infectious agents that cause diseases to its host. Though there are many types of pathogens (including viral, bacterial and fungal), the most common form found in seafood is bacterial. Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli 0157:H7 and Salmonella fall under the bacterial category.
Listeria monocytogenes is the bacterium that causes the infection listeriosis. It is a facultative anaerobic bacterium, capable of surviving in the presence of oxygen. It can grow and reproduce inside the host's cells and is one of the most virulent food-borne pathogens. According to CDC data, Listeria monocytogenes is responsible for approximately 2,500 illnesses and 500 deaths in the United States annually, listeriosis is the leading cause of death among food-borne bacterial pathogens, with fatality rates exceeding even Salmonella and Clostridium botulinum. Listeria monocytogenes is quite hardy and resists the deleterious effects of freezing, drying, and heat remarkably well for a bacterium that does not form spores.
E. coli 0157:H7 is a form of bacteria that usually originates from fecal matter from humans and other animals. The incubation period for E. coli is usually 72 to 96 hours and lasts 2 to 10 days. Infection often leads to a litany of gastro-intestinal distress where more serious cases can cause illness or even death in elderly, very young or immunocompromised individuals.
Salmonella is a form of microscopic living creatures that pass from the feces of people or animals to other people or other animals. The primary cause of transfer is due to ingestion of contaminated food. Salmonella can survive several weeks in a dry environment and several months in water. Most frequently found in polluted water, contamination from the excrement of carrier animals being particularly important. Salmonella enters through the digestive tract and must be ingested in large numbers to cause disease in healthy adults. Infants, children and immunocompromised individuals are much more susceptible to infection.
How We Test for Listeria mono., E. coli 0157:h7 and Salmonella
MASI utilizes Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) based technology to detect and identify bacteria. PCR technology is an automated DNA-based detection system and is the same state of the art technology utilized by many government lab facilities. What sets MASI apart from other labs is the proactive application of the technology at the seafood processing level–most other PCR-based detection systems are applied solely reactively to trace a pathogen outbreak to its source.
Utilizing the power of real-time PCR technology to break down samples at the genetic level, the unique genetic signatures of pathogens can be detected rapidly with a high level of certainty. Pathogen amplification is measured as it occurs, allowing for the detection of sequence-specific PCR products as they accumulate in "real time." As the fragments are produced, the system determines both the presence and quantity of a target. Test time is approximately 14 to 28 hours.
MASI has a zero tolerance policy for all bacterial pathogens. If even one target organism is identified the product does not receive Safe Harbor Certification.