Inspecting Seafood

Many state and federal agencies including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Commerce work together to ensure that the seafood we buy is safe and wholesome. Seafood, just like milk, bread, and produce, are subject to the requirements of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, administered by the FDA. Under the FDA’s mandatory fish inspection program as well as voluntary quality inspection programs, the vast majority of seafood in the marketplace is safe to eat.

How Is Seafood Inspected?

Performing a sensory test of shrimp

The FDA runs a mandatory fish inspection program for all seafood processors and retailers, both domestic and international. Seafood processors are required to implement a program called Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP, pronounced “hassip”). Under HACCP, seafood is monitored at critical points along the supply chain. HACCP works by preventing food safety problems from developing rather than testing food after production to see if it is safe.

Instead of relying on food inspectors to detect food safety problems, HACCP shifts the responsibility to seafood processors to ensure their product is safe to eat. Seafood processors examine all parts of their operation for hazards including toxins, chemicals, environmental contaminants, and even physical hazards such as wood, metal, or glass. They keep records at each critical point to be certain the HACCP system is working. Seafood processors must also conduct and document sanitation activities as an extra safety measure.

How Does NOAA Ensure Safe, High Quality Seafood?

Inspecting king crab

NOAA’s Seafood Inspection Program, which is a part of the Department of Commerce, is a voluntary, fee-for-service program that works with other agencies to provide science-based inspection services to the seafood industry to ensure safe, high quality seafood. To ensure they are meeting or exceeding the FDA’s HACCP requirements, businesses can voluntarily request help from the NOAA Seafood Inspection Program to develop, implement, and verify a plan that shows they are following the law. NOAA inspectors also inspect for specific quality requirements.

Whether for import, export, or sold domestically, NOAA’s consumer safety inspectors and officers travel to fishing vessels, processors, and cold storage facilities around the world to evaluate seafood processors and retailers who have requested an inspection or who are under investigation. If these businesses pass inspection, they are considered an Approved Establishment, but are subject to all normal standard regulatory inspections by the FDA. To find out if your fish has been inspected by NOAA’s Seafood Inspection Program, check the label - it might say U.S. Grade A or USDC inspected. If the label doesn’t tell you, ask your fishmonger if it’s from an Approved Establishment. LEARN MORE

For More Information

A number of excellent resources can provide additional information on seafood inspection. Some of our favorites include: