Ogburn, D. and Ruello, N., 1999. Waterproof labelling and identification systems suitable for shellfish and other seafood and aquaculture products. Whose oyster is that? Final Report to Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. Project No. 95/360. 50pp. NSW Fisheries Final Report Series No. 17. ISSN 1440-3544.
Non Technical Summary:
This report outlines the results of investigations into the feasibility of cost effectively marking or labelling individual oysters and other shellfish for product differentiation and to facilitate rapid and efficient recall of product in the event of a potential public health incident.
A number of different types of plastic tags, manufactured in Australia and overseas, can be glued or otherwise secured to oysters and other shellfish but the cost of these tags is prohibitive for all but the most expensive products such as abalone or lobster.
While there is a vast assortment of inexpensive adhesive labels used in the food and beverage industry there is currently no commercial label (or experimental adhesive) that will adequately adhere to a typical damp oyster as packed at an oyster farm.
Thus there is no cost effective label or mark that will survive ‘paddock to plate’ distribution for most shellfish and allow for positive and rapid product identification for a food safety related traceback operation. However a number of adhesive labels were identified that could be securely attached to a vast assortment of clean and dry shellfish including oysters, pipis, abalone, crabs and crayfish.
The cost of these labels ranges upwards from a cent each for the small type commonly seen on apples and kiwi fruit. Such a small label could carry sufficient information for product identification and recall for food safety purposes and some brand differentiation but would be too small for any promotional message.
A one cent added cost for a label (at the farm gate) plus the labour cost for thorough cleaning and drying oysters for label attachment would financially cripple or destroy most oyster farming businesses.
The question of cost effectiveness of larger, slightly more expensive labels (costing about several cents each) for promotional purposes would depend on the value of the individual seafood product itself and the company’s volume of throughput and financial resources. These could be an economically attractive marketing tool for the processors or marketers of large and/or valuable seafood item such as an abalone or lobster.
The absence of a mark or tag suitable for paddock to plate distribution for individual shellfish is commonly perceived as the fundamental problem with shellfish safety, particularly so for oysters.
The key weaknesses however lie more with the shellfish processing and seafood marketing sectors and the food service industry in:
- A lack of awareness of the community’s, government’s and oyster producer’s strong concerns about the safety of oysters.
- Insufficient attention to food hygiene and temperature control.
- The inadequate identification (not necessarily labelling) and record keeping on the mixing and distribution of high risk seafood product such as oysters from different sources.
The marketing and food safety outcomes sought by the oyster producers can be achieved by improving the handling, labelling and record keeping practices used with the prevailing trade units of a dozen, a bag, bottle or a case of oysters or the one, ten kilograms etc of shellfish sold by weight or with self serve buffets.
In short, with good hygiene practices (GHP) and good manufacturing practices (GMP) which should underpin the food safety plan that all food businesses must soon implement to meet the requirements of the Australia New Zealand Food Authority, the problem of shellfish identification/origin can be resolved for minimal cost. A paddock to plate tag for individual oysters is not absolutely essential.
Shellfish in even the smallest trade unit for a retail or restaurant sale can be identified in a cost-effective manner to both satisfy brand marketing requirements and allow for rapid and reliable identification and traceback with labels or tags costing only a few cents each. The potential problem with the origin/identity of oysters stacked on a self-serve buffet table can also be overcome with better record keeping on the part of the food service outlet.
This approach is also consistent with the seafood industry’s SeaQual national aims for better management of seafood quality.
In their quest for an innovative or technological solution to an almost universal problem the Australian seafood industry has failed to recognise that the solution ultimately rests with the people themselves.
We therefore propose that a national oyster industry strategy be developed, with the support of the Ministerial Council on Fisheries and Aquaculture, to:
- review current handling of oysters.
- produce a Code of Practice for oyster processors.
- formulate a set of recommended handling practices for all sectors of the seafood industry and the food service industry for:
- minimising the mixing of high-risk product,
- clear identification or labelling of product at all times, and
- maintenance of reliable records of all product mixing and sales, to enhance the overall safety and public image of oysters in Australia.