Public health agencies and laboratories have a crucial role to play in the BP oil spill crisis as testers of seafood. Chemical testing ensures that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is not contaminated by oil and is therefore safe to eat. NOAA’s seafood-testing method is the current gold standard—and sole approved testing method—for reopening waters. The test is able to detect PAH, an oil compound, in both fish and shellfish.
All 50 US states participate in a food-testing network called the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN). NOAA’s test is available to all FERN labs and, as the testing workload expands, FDA will increasingly encourage FERN labs to utilize NOAA’s test. In addition to detecting PAH, labs can assist with baseline testing by comparing pre- and post-spill PAH levels. In performing these chemical analyses, public health labs will be instrumental to the re-opening of fisheries.