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New Sea Grant specialist aims to keep Gulf seafood safe

George Baker.  Assistant Scientist. Food Science and Human Nutrition.

George Baker

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — George Baker hopes to help ensure Gulf seafood remains safe to consume.

As the new seafood safety specialist for Florida Sea Grant, Baker will primarily give seafood processors the best scientific data from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and other sources.

He’ll train processors and others in seafood safety. Baker wants to help develop methods to detect chemical compounds that would hinder seafood safety, and he hopes to generate and disseminate basic nutritional information or analysis.

“Working with seafood can be very exciting and quite challenging,” said Baker, who, in addition to his new Sea Grant position, will retain his appointment as an assistant professor in food science and human nutrition at UF/IFAS. “It seems that there are far more safety issues associated with seafood in the news or on the web than other food commodities like meat and poultry or produce. However, it’s my opinion that, unless you have a seafood-related allergy, seafood is as just as safe, or safer, than other food.”

The seafood industry sometimes battles negative public perceptions, particularly with raw seafood, Baker said. Most animal protein sources are cooked before consumption.

“On the other hand, I can understand consumer concern when a possible contamination event happens in or near the ocean,” he said.

Programs like Sea Grant, along with regulatory agencies, can help determine what the impacts of these events might be, and if consumers should avoid consuming seafood, Baker said.

For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and NOAA proceeded cautiously and tested abundantly to ensure that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico was safe to consume after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

“The result, we’ve found, is that Gulf seafood should be just as safe as it was before the oil spill,” Baker said, a finding that was confirmed in a recently released UF/IFAS study.

Still, seafood processors should take several precautions to avoid potential foodborne illnesses. With the exception of sea foods intended to be consumed raw, the precautions are essentially the same ones taken with other foods:

  • Keep the product cold before you cook it.
  • Cook the product to a high enough temperature that allows for both safety and quality.
  • Cool the food as soon as possible after cooking.

Teaching seafood safety is an ongoing process, and technological advancements may change the way Baker delivers his messages.“We are continuing our seafood safety training efforts and intend to integrate as much novel communication technology as possible,” he said. “Nothing is as good as face-to-face, but that’s not to say that there isn’t an effective way to provide training at a distance. We’ll have to determine if the message we are trying to convey can be delivered in this manner.”

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By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

 

Source: George Baker, 352-294-3902, glba@ufl.edu