Seafood specials at the Nam Dae Mun Farmers Market in metro Atlanta can include Caribbean red snapper, crawfish or golden pomfret, a popular southeast Asian fish with soft white flesh.

With eight stores and hundreds of employees, it’s important that the Norcross-based retailer ensures safety of its seafood.

“We deal with so much seafood that knowing how to transport [and] carry it safely for our consumers is essential,” says Kathy Rivers, human resources director for the international Nam Dae Mun Farmers Market.

Nam Dae Mun has sent at least 14 employees through UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) seafood safety course. The government-mandated training helps seafood professionals learn to spot and prevent potential safety hazards from the time seafood arrives on the loading docks until it goes out the market doors.

“Learning how to create a HACCP plan was pretty important to us,” says Rivers, who participated in one of the training sessions herself a few years ago. “Figuring out how it was all connected, not just to my consumers’ lives, but to my own life because I eat a lot of seafood in my house, was important as well.”

Federal and state regulations require that all wholesale facilities processing, distributing or storing seafood have at least one employee—or hire a consultant—who has been trained in seafood HACCP.

“The training teaches participants how to identify and prevent biological, chemical, physical, and other food safety hazards to protect their products, company reputation, and ultimately, consumers,” says Tori Stivers, seafood specialist at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

HACCP is the primary program for assuring the safety of fish and fishery products processed and imported for sale in the US.

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has offered HACCP training since 1997; Stivers has been the point person since 2011.

In the last 24 years, the organization has trained 889 seafood professionals.

Typically, the training occurs in-person over three days. Stivers and instructors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Georgia Department of Agriculture educate participants about the principles of HACCP, teach them how to identify species and process-related food safety hazards, and determine critical points in their process where hazards can be controlled.

In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Stivers transitioned her in-person HACCP training to a virtual format so that businesses could continue to operate.

“During a time when a lot of businesses were struggling, some food retailers and wholesalers actually saw a huge increase in demand because consumers started rushing to grocery stores,” says Stivers. “Offering virtual HACCP training ensured that businesses could continue to operate and meet the needs of consumers.”

Thirty-five people from 10 different businesses and state agencies participated in the seafood HACCP trainings in 2020. Through these trainings, the economic value of jobs created or sustained last year reached $1.74 million.

In addition to continuing the training, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant received funding from the National Sea Grant College Program to implement a COVID-19 rapid response program for seafood processing facilities in Georgia. As part of the program, Stivers is providing free, on-site assessments of facilities to evaluate how they have adapted their operations during the pandemic and recommend additional cost-effective interventions.

“We were constantly making sure we were keeping up with the latest guidelines for handling food for customers,” says Rivers. “Tori assisted in the review of our pandemic plan for our business and what safety measures and protocols we put in place. Some of the foundation of what we had [in the pandemic plan], like contact tracing, was part of the preventative controls that are in a HACCP plan.”