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Florida launches website touting safety of Gulf seafood

By Susan Salisbury

Despite lingering consumer wariness over the safety of Florida’s Gulf of Mexico seafood, tests conducted by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services show that the products are safe to eat.

On Wednesday, the department launched a new website, www.MyFloridaGulfSafe.com, as part of a marketing campaign initiated in August to spread that message. In April 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico releasing millions of gallons of oil into the ocean.

“Many consumers still have the misperception that Florida seafood was adversely affected by the oil spill,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a statement Wednesday. “Our testing shows that Florida seafood has not been impacted by the oil spill and we want consumers to know that Florida seafood is safe and available.”

Between August 2010 and June this year the department’s Division of Food Safety screened 297 samples of finfish and shellfish for possible oil contamination. All findings are well below the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s levels of concern.

With $10 million in additional funding over the next three years, the department plans to expand the testing over the next few years.

Nelson Mongiovi, the agriculture department’s director of marketing and development, said overall sales of Florida Gulf seafood continue to lag, and that’s hurting fishermen.

Don Kraemer of the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition also said recently that fish and shellfish from reopened harvest areas or areas unaffected by the closures are considered as safe to eat as they were before the oil spill.

A survey conducted in April found that 63 percent of Floridans had concerns about the safety of Florida Gulf seafood, an increase from 48 percent in January.

Danny Callaro, owner of Riggins Crabhouse in Lantana, said customers are no longer asking whether seafood is from the Gulf and he has had no problems with seafood from the region.

“When it first happened, there were people asking. In the last couple of months, we haven’t had any inquiries. Anything we have gotten out of the Gulf is perfectly fine. We get most of our crabs from the Gulf,” Callaro said.

Stephen Gyland, owner of Cod & Capers Seafood in Palm Beach Gardens, said supplies and quality out of the Gulf are good and he also has not had a customer ask about the issue in months.

“We continue to carry product from the Gulf. It’s a big piece of water. Only 20 percent of the Gulf was closed during the worst of it,” Gyland said, adding that Escambia County in the Panhandle was the only Florida county impacted.

The “Florida Gulf Safe” message will also be displayed on billboards through the state, on signs at Florida’s Turnpike tollbooths, in magazine ads and in tabletop displays at restaurants and seafood retailers. The state’s seafood testing and a Gulf-caught fish tagging program are featured in the July issue of Guy Harvey Magazine, named for the well-known marine conservationist and artist.

source: Florida launches website touting safety of Gulf seafood

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