GAINESVILLE, Fla. — October is National Seafood Month, and Florida Sea Grant has spotlighted the safety and variety of the state’s seafood products with a special report published in the September issue of Florida Trend magazine.
Although the average Floridian’s seafood consumption is twice the national average – 31 pounds per year, compared with 15 – a recent Florida Sea Grant survey indicates that 40 percent of state residents don’t eat two servings each week, as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“With this special report, we hope to raise awareness of our state’s seafood production and the fact that seafood is a healthy, delicious dining option,” said Karl Havens, Florida Sea Grant director and a professor with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, or UF/IFAS. “We’re very fortunate in Florida to have access to a wide range of local seafood items as well as products sourced elsewhere.”
Florida is the nation’s seventh-largest seafood producing state, offering about 80 wild-caught and farm-raised items, he said. Some of the state’s best-known seafood products include grouper, snapper, oysters, spiny lobster and stone crab.
Seafood quality is an issue that’s been on the minds of many Floridians since the Gulf oil spill began in April 2010, Havens said. Some consumers have expressed concern about possible food-safety issues associated with the spill, but UF/IFAS research has consistently shown that Gulf seafood is safe to eat.
“Many of Florida’s coastal communities suffered economically in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill, due to reduced consumer demand even though the oil never affected the safety of our fish,” Havens said. “Greater consumption of Florida seafood could help these communities rebound.”
The dockside value of the state’s 2013 wild-caught seafood harvest was about $200 million, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Florida Sea Grant assists the industry with educational programs that keep producers informed about new handling and processing techniques, regulatory changes and other developments that could impact their work.
As mentioned in the Florida Trend article, it’s important to note that seafood imported to the U.S. must meet the same safety standards as domestic seafood, said George Baker, Sea Grant seafood specialist and an assistant professor with UF’s food science and human nutrition department.
“We often hear negative things about imported seafood,” Baker said. “However, without imports, the availability of seafood would be seriously hindered to most areas of the U.S. Thankfully, we Floridians live in an area with excellent resources for fresh seafood and can choose what types of seafood products to buy and consume.”
“Part of our role at Florida Sea Grant is to provide outreach to the public, and we have some great information on the ‘Seafood Quality and Safety’ page of the Sea Grant website,” Baker said. The page is found at http://www.flseagrant.org/seafood.
For people on the go, Florida Sea Grant and UF/IFAS Extension offer a free mobile app, “Florida Seafood at Your Fingertips,” which delivers tips on seafood selection and preparation. Download it at http://www.flseagrant.org/seafoodseafoodatyourfingertips.
The Sea Grant special report is part of an ongoing series that highlights coastal and ocean issues in Florida and the surrounding region. The statewide business magazine Florida Trend was selected as the venue for the series due to its popularity and focus.
For more information about seafood, visit the Florida Sea Grant website, http://www.flseagrant.org
Writer: Tom Nordlie, 352-273-3567, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Karl Havens, 352-392-5870, email@example.com
George Baker, 352-294-3902, firstname.lastname@example.org