Aquaculture: sustainable, low-impact protein, but cook the fish

It’s one of those restaurant things I have fun with.

Any seafood place will proudly declare their fish is wild, not the farmed stuff.

For 15 years, I’ve asked servers, do you have farmed salmon or whatever aquatic delight awaits my tummy.

steve-gainesThe server will brag and brag about how all the seafood they serve is wild, and not the nasty farmed stuff.

Wrong answer.

Like raw-egg aioli.

Elizabeth Weise of USA Today writes that farmed fish has gotten a bad rap, but it’s the only way the world is going to feed the additional 2.4 billion people expected to be added to the Earth’s population in the next 34 years, experts told a sustainable food conference.

With the world’s arable land maxed out and wild seafood overfished, aquaculture is the one place we can look to produce enough animal protein for all those extra mouths, said Steve Gaines (left, not exactly as shown), a professor of marine biology at the University of California Santa Barbara and lead investigator for the university’s sustainable fisheries group. He spoke at a conference on sustainable food at the Monterey Bay Aquarium earlier this month.

The rising human population isn’t the only issue. As standards of living rise, people eat more protein and especially more meat. In China, for example, annual meat consumption has risen from 28 pounds per person in 1982 to 138 pounds in 2015.

Growing enough crops to feed more pigs, chickens and cows is a challenge. In most of the world, all the land that can be planted already is planted. Plowing under the marginal land that’s left would only lead to deforestation and land degradation, which only contributes to climate change, said Gaines.

Turning to the world’s oceans doesn’t help. Analysis of global fisheries, even if all were sustainably managed for maximum production, would only take care of between 1% and 5% of the coming demand, Gaines said.

The only option, experts at the Monterey conference said, is aquaculture.  Currently just 15% of world animal protein consumption comes from aquaculture but that can quickly be ramped up.

farmed-salmonIt’s a hard sell in the United States. Panelists blamed part of the U.S. prejudice against aquaculture on NIMBYism (i.e. Not In My Backyard.) Americans were content to eat farmed salmon, shrimp, oysters and other species when they were produced far away, but didn’t want to see fish farms and pens in their pristine waters at home.

There’s also an ongoing negative connotation with fish farming among the more eco-conscious in the United States because of early unsustainable fishery examples, especially farmed salmon and shrimp, in South America and Asia.

Asian seafood producers have been cleaning up their acts but damaging stories about aquaculture there continue to make the rounds, said Kevin Fitzsimmons, a professor of aquaculture at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Az.

He says he frequently hears Americans complain about agricultural leavings and animal waste being used in fish ponds in southeast Asia, a practice that’s actually both sustainable and deeply rooted in the culture, he said.

“In the United States, if somebody puts chicken waste in their garden they’re an organic farmer and it’s wonderful. But if they put it in a fish pond in China, we say they’re trying to kill us,” he said.

Today a wave of innovation and investment has meant that aquaculture overall is much more environmentally friendly and efficient than it once was.

Currently 78% of the salmon Americans eat is farmed, according to research by Oai Li Chen at the University of Washington. However, as a whole, salmon makes up just one-fifth of world aquaculture production, said Peet.

FAO: Fueled by aquaculture, fish consumption reaches all time high

The world is eating more fish than ever and contrary to popular notions, fish farming and not marine wild catch is meeting the global demands, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016 report has revealed. FAO brings out this report every two years. It said that India is one of 35 countries that produced more farmed than wild-caught fish in 2014. According to the report, almost 90 per cent of aquaculture production takes place in Asia, most of it in the tropical and subtropical belts.

fish1In the exhaustive report, encapsulating the trends of world fishing production, it has come to light that diversified production has increased the average per capita availability to a new high of more than 20kg. “World per capita apparent fish consumption increased from an average of 9.9 kg in the 1960s to 14.4 kg in the 1990s and 19.7 kg in 2013, with preliminary estimates for 2015 indicating further growth, exceeding 20 kg,” the report said.

Globally, total capture fishery production in 2014 was 93.4 million tonnes, of which 81.5 million tonnes from marine waters and 11.9 million tonnes from inland waters. In 2014, there were an estimated 4.6 million fishing vessels with Asia alone having 3.5 million of them and 64 per cent of global vessels were engine-powered.


Asian culture, food regs collide in Virginia?

The New York Times reports that in the rear of the Great Wall supermarket in Falls Church, Virginia, customers linger over razor clams, frozen conch and baby smelt arrayed at the fish counter. Crabs clamber over the ice. Below, sea bass circle in glass tanks. A girl in a stroller, eye level with a school of tilapia, giggles in delight.

But other tanks are empty. The bullfrogs, turtles and eels that Northern Virginia’s booming Asian population used to buy at the counter and take home to cook are nowhere to be found, seized last year by state agents who leveled criminal charges against two managers of the store accusing them of illegally selling wildlife.

The case, which is scheduled to go to trial in June, has put culinary traditions of Asian immigrants into conflict with state laws, illustrating what some see as a cultural fault line in the changing population of Northern Virginia. Asians make up 13.6 percent of the population of four Northern Virginia counties.

Lawyers for the store managers say that the law governing sales of live fish and other animals has not been updated to reflect advances in aquaculture, and that it is tilted against immigrants with unfamiliar cuisines and customs. In a court filing, they argue that the case “seems to be about the tyranny of the majority.”

It is clear that Kai Wei Jin, one of the managers charged, is unhappy about being in the middle of a criminal case. Mr. Jin, 25, fiddled uncomfortably with his phone during an interview, saying he just wanted to satisfy his customers.

“We’re not trying to break the law,” he said. “We just want to do business, and just support the culture.”

Lee Walker, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said that the laws were necessary to protect wildlife, and that charges were leveled only after a warning went unheeded.

“We really try to educate folks about the regulations before we ever try to bring charges,” he said. “In this case, every attempt was made to educate about what’s legal. And, unfortunately, action was not taken.”

The case arose early last year after what prosecutors called a “concerned citizen” made a report of illegal sales. Officials went to the store several times and bought red-eared slider turtles and largemouth bass, which they said was labeled “mainland rockfish.” They returned last April, seizing turtles, eels, bullfrogs and crayfish, and delivered a warning, prosecutors said.

When officials returned and found largemouth bass still for sale, they said, they sought charges against the managers. Both were indicted on four felony counts, but the prosecutor later agreed to reduce the charges to misdemeanors, which carry potential penalties of jail time and fines of up to $2,500.

Some of the species fall under a broad category of wildlife that cannot be bought or sold, while sales of largemouth bass are forbidden because it is a native game fish. Crayfish can be sold, but the store lacked permits, according to prosecutors’ court filings.

Lawyers for the store managers say that categorizing the fish and other creatures as wildlife does not make sense, because they were farm-raised for eating.

Receipts filed with court motions show, for example, that some of the turtles were raised in Oklahoma. The bullfrogs were shipped from the Dominican Republic. The bass and some eels came from a Pennsylvania fish farm.

A Great Wall store in neighboring Maryland makes for a study in contrast. The fish counter there has many of the creatures that have vanished from the Virginia store. Turtles labeled “farm-raised” paddle in one tank, selling for $9.99 per pound. At the counter, mesh bags bulge with live bullfrogs for $5.99 a pound.

How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat? School lessons in food safety

Today’s USA Today asked a bunch of food safety types what the government could do to improve the school lunch program.

My full answer included,

“Does it have to be government? They’re not very good at this stuff.”

 What got published this a.m., along with a photo by Dave Adams of Kansas State, was,

"Government should set minimal standards and demand continuous improvement from all of its suppliers. More importantly, every cafeteria needs to make microbial food safety — from hand washing to food handling — part of the daily culture." 

Douglas Powell, professor of food safety at Kansas State University and the publisher of

The story explains that in 1982, hamburgers from McDonald’s fast-food chain sickened at least 47 people in Oregon and Michigan. No one died, but the pathogen that caused the severe cramps, abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea turned out to be a little-known, especially dangerous form of the common stomach bacteria E. coli. The new subtype, E. coli O157:H7, produced a toxin that destroyed red blood cells and, in later cases elsewhere, caused kidney failure or death.

Confounded by the discovery, McDonald’s hired one of the nation’s best-known food safety scientists, Michael Doyle, and told him, he recalls, "to bulletproof their system so E. coli never happened to them again."

McDonald’s reconsidered its old assumptions about food — from how often beef-processing plants should test ground beef to how well a hamburger must be cooked to kill off pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella.

The results helped change the industry. For years, the federal food code said burgers had to be cooked only until their internal temperature reached 140 degrees; McDonald’s tests showed the safe standard was 155 degrees and that the meat must register that temperature for at least 15 seconds.

Microbial data also altered the demands McDonald’s imposed on its suppliers.

After a couple of years, the company saw that "about 5% of the suppliers could not get down to what we considered a reasonable level for salmonella and E. coli," says Doyle, now director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety. "McDonald’s worked hard with them, but they couldn’t get there, so McDonald’s let them go."

The lesson, many analysts say, is that organizations with great buying power — such as fast-food chains or the school lunch program — can set higher standards, and industry ultimately will meet those standards because that’s where the money is. The school lunch program purchases huge volumes of commodities such as beef, poultry and other staples –– $830 million worth in 2008.

Food safety culture means employees don’t contaminate food with brooms or forklift tires

If a company making ready-to-eat refrigerated deli-meats has a “strong culture of food safety,” would an employee shake a broom over a line of processed product?

If more inspectors are the answer to safer food, why would the inspectors need publicly reported accounts of foodborne illness and death to try harder?

And if the company and inspectors are doing lots of tests to ensure enhanced food safety, why aren’t they bragging about it instead of requiring an Access to Information request by a media outlet to discover that inspectors continue to find problems with Maple Leaf Foods infamous Bartor Road plant in Weston, Ontario.

Last night, Steve Rennie of The Canadian Press reported that Canadian federal food safety types found a troubling lack of hygiene at Maple Leaf Foods’ Toronto facility just weeks after it reopened last year from a temporary shutdown for cleaning – after 22 people were killed and 53 sickened with listeria linked to deli meat.

A Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspection report dated Oct. 10, 2008, found:

• slime on part of the meat-trimming table in the curing room;
• meat debris on two steel container bins and unidentified debris on the brine tank in the curing room;
•a moist and mouldy cardboard sheet on the base of a skid in the curing room that holds bags of salt;
•mouldy caulking on the walls of the meat-defrosting room;
•a stack of dirty, mouldy and broken skids left in the frozen packoff room during cleaning;
• food debris on knife holders, floor and meat containers in the formulation room; and,
• rust on equipment used to process mock chicken.

The Canadian Press obtained that inspection report and others under the Access to Information Act.

Another report says during visits on Oct. 20 and 21, an inspector watched as "an employee in a grey jacket lifted a floor broom over a finished food product conveyor belt during operation to sweep in between the conveyors." (No additional information as to whether the product was packaged or not).

Then on Oct. 22, the inspector saw a worker using a forklift to move ready-to-eat link sausages from the cooler to a line for packaging. The report notes the meat at the bottom part of the lift "was not protected for the potential wheel over spray or splash cross contamination."

That part is gross. And unacceptable.

On Aug. 23, 2008, ( passim ad nauseum) Maple Leaf CEO Michael McCain took to the Intertubes to apologize for an expanding outbreak of listeriosis that would eventually kill 22 people. As part of his speech, McCain said that Maple Leaf has “a strong culture of food safety.”???

On Aug. 27, 2008, McCain told a press conference, ??????“As I’ve said before, Maple Leaf Foods is 23,000 people who live in a culture of food safety. We have an unwavering commitment to keep our food safe, and we have excellent systems and processes in place.

Dr. Randy Huffman, Maple Leaf’s chief food-safety officer, took to his company’s Journey (worst band ever)-inspired Journey to Food Safety Leadership blog to say today,

“The average reader must be wondering how this plant could have so many issues only a month after re-opening from causing one of the worst food safety crises in Canada.”

I’m not sure what he means by average. I consider myself dull and below-average; does that mean I won’t be able to understand what he is saying?

Huffman: Over the past 12 -14 months- since these inspections were conducted – we have invested over $5 million in upgrades at the Bartor Road plant. This includes repair of floors and wall surfaces, air handling systems, caulking, better separation of raw and cooked areas of the plant, new pallets and new slicing and packaging equipment. We have implemented over 200 new operating procedures.

Why did it take 22 deaths and 53 illnesses to make this food safety investment?

Huffman: CFIA generates these reports and so does Maple Leaf, through our own inspections across all our plants. We welcome this government scrutiny.  Canadians hold us to a higher standard, as they should.

So why did the reports have to be obtained through an Access to Information request, and why doesn’t Maple Leaf just sidestep the government and make the reports public, along with other data, as it becomes available, to build trust with the buying consumer?

Would more inspectors have helped? Maybe if they were looking. Federal food inspection union thingy Bob Kingston said,

"In a normal operation that had not been through what they had been through, that might be a common occurrence. But in this facility, it’s very surprising that that would still be there. Because you would expect it to be spotless."

The best food producers, processors, retailers and restaurants will go above and beyond minimal government and auditor standards and sell food safety solutions directly to the public. The best organizations will use their own people to demand ingredients from the best suppliers; use a mixture of encouragement and enforcement to foster a food safety culture; and use technology to be transparent — whether it’s live webcams in the facility or real-time test results on the website — to help restore the shattered trust with the buying public.

And the best cold-cut companies may stop dancing around and tell pregnant women, old people and other immunocompromised folks, don’t eat this food unless it’s heated

Food safety doesn’t just happen in English – so why aren’t restaurant inspection disclosure results available in other languages?

You’d figure that getting stuff translated into other languages would be a breeze, since I have an in with the modern languages department. But to do it in real-time is a bit messy.

Whether it’s a recall, an inspection report or a warning label, not everyone who eats in the U.S. is fluent in English. That’s why our food safety infosheets are now available weekly in French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Debbie Pacheco of blogTO writes today that the garbage disposal calendar Toronto distributes has sections in various languages, so why, then, is something as important as Toronto’s DineSafe guidelines only available in English?

One restaurateur told Pacheco he’s interpreted food preparation instructions for his staff before. "If you want that traditional food, it’s usually the older people who don’t necessarily speak English that cook it." He manages his kitchen and is certified in food handling. The city requires that someone with a food handling certificate supervise the kitchen at all times while it’s operating.

Mebrak, who’s been with Cleopatra restaurant for nine years, put it best. "It’s important people really understand how to handle food. It’s about safety for everyone."

Gratuitous food porn shot of the day – grilled salmon and sweet potato fries

Sorenne eating lunch with dad, Oct. 1, 2009.

Marinate farmed salmon fillets (I prefer aquaculture because it is more sustainable) in lime juice, garlic, olive oil and fresh rosemary.

Microwave 2 sweet potatoes, cool, cut into fry-like segments; baste in oil and rosemary.

Turn grill to high. Put fries on upper rack, salmon on direct heat; cook until an internal temperature of 120F.

Restaurant inspection changes in Philadelphia

Restaurant inspectors in Philadelphia have abandoned the "floors, walls, ceilings" focus and instead are phasing in a more scientific, "risk-based" approach that emphasizes food workers’ knowledge and behavior – do they know how contamination is spread and how to prevent it? – and calls for more frequent inspections of eateries that pose greater risks.

Don Sapatkin of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes this morning that Philadelphia is playing catchup in adopting changes that most counties around here have already made, in some cases many years ago. Yet the city’s new approach is expected to mean more inspections of the 12,621 establishments that sell or serve food – four times a year at institutional kitchens, for example – than most places.

Still, this region is hardly progressive compared to places like Toronto, which posts red, yellow or green signs in restaurants, or Los Angeles (A-B-Cs), or Denmark (smiley faces). No county in the Philadelphia region requires restaurants to post full inspection reports on location.

It’s not clear that food is any safer when there is greater transparency or even more frequent inspections, "but it does get people to think about food safety," said Doug Powell, an associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University who operates barfblog.

Don Schaffner, a professor of food microbiology at Rutgers University, said inspections traditionally have focused as much on appearance as on cooking temperatures. And they often made little distinction between sushi bars that serve raw fish and drug stores that sell prepackaged food.

"What we’ve learned over time is, not everything is equal.”

Ben Chapman, a food-safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University and a contributor to barfblog said prevention is really about "the culture of the restaurant”

Meaning, says Powell,

"If two workers are from the same restaurant (and go to the bathroom) and (only) one washes his hands, I want one to say to the other: ‘Dude, wash your hands.’ "

William Shatner speaks out on salmon

Montreal-native William Shatner – Captain Kirk, Boston Legal dude, Priceline negotiator and spoken-word enthusiast — has written Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking that salmon farms be removed from wild-salmon migration routes in the Broughton and Discovery islands area of British Columbia.

Shatner, who filmed an episode of the Boston Legal series in the Broughton Archipelago off northern Vancouver Island, says in his letter that salmon farms are having a disastrous impact on "one of Earth’s most precious assets, the wild salmon and steelhead of B.C."

Mary Ellen Walling, executive director, B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, responded that while Shatner’s acting credentials are solid (really?) — his understanding of fisheries research is less stellar.

Activist groups should, at least, be able to meet the same standards of scrutiny applied to industry. And for journalists who often see themselves as the guardians of the public interest, it seems prudent to be wary of being manipulated, even by those who appear to walk on the side of the public good rather than the side of corporate self-interest. Beam me up, Scotty.

That didn’t go over too well with the locals. Several letter writers pointed out that T.J. Hooker was entitled to his views, didn’t represent industry, and there were lots of ways to do research. Aquaculture folks – facts are important, but are never enough.