Food

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Questions and Answers

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Q:  Is seafood harvested in the Gulf Coast area safe to eat?

A:  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.

The best way to protect the pubic from potentially contaminated seafood was to close harvest waters impacted by the oil and only reopen them after testing showed that seafood from those areas was safe to eat. By now all of the federal waters and all but a few state harvest waters have reopened after the tests showed that the seafood from these reopened areas is free from harmful oil and dispersant residues.

FDA has no reason to believe that any contaminated product has made its way to the market. However, if you have questions or concerns about seafood or have reason to suspect that seafood you have purchased is contaminated with oil please call 1-888-INFO-FDA.

Q:  How do the federal government and the states determine that harvest waters closed due to contamination from the oil spill can be reopened?

A:  FDA, NOAA, and the Gulf Coast states agreed on a protocol to determine when closed harvest waters can be reopened. The federal government and the states feel confident that when this protocol is followed, the seafood harvested from the reopened areas is free from harmful oil and dispersant residues. Under the protocol harvest waters are not reopened until oil from the spill is no longer present and the seafood samples from the area successfully pass both sensory evaluation by trained experts and a chemical analysis to ensure there are no harmful oil or dispersant residues.   

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Q:  How will FDA assure the safety of seafood after the fishing and shellfish harvesting areas are allowed to reopen?

A:  Federal and state waters closed due to contamination from the oil spill are only reopened for harvesting after it has been determined that seafood harvested from those areas is free from harmful oil and dispersant residues. However, just to be certain that we did not miss anything, the federal and state officials continue to collect and test seafood that has been commercially harvested from the Gulf. The seafood we have collected continues to be free from harmful oil and dispersant residues. In addition, FDA oversees a mandatory safety program for all fish and fishery products under the provisions of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, The Public Health Service Act, and related regulations. If adulterated seafood is found on the market, both the FDA and the states have the authority to seize the product and remove it from the food supply.

Q:  Who is responsible for the closing of federal and state harvest waters?

A:  NOAA has the authority to close federal waters to commercial fishing and states have the authority to close waters within their jurisdiction. The FDA works closely with NOAA and the states whenever commercial fishing waters are closed for public health reasons and again when they are reopened to harvest.

Q:  How can I find out about closures?

A: To view a current map of the areas closed to fishing (reviewed and updated daily), go to Deepwater Horizon/BP Oil Spill disclaimer icon.

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Q:  What impact did the dispersants used to combat the oil spill have on seafood safety?

A:  Studies indicate that the dispersants being used to combat the oil spill do not accumulate in seafood and therefore there is no public health concern from them due to seafood consumption. Still the federal government and the states made testing for dispersant part of the reopening protocol. At the time closed harvest waters started being considered for reopening, no chemical test for dispersants in seafood existed, so the first test for dispersant was a sensory examination by a team of trained organoleptic experts. If the evaluation team identified a sample that smelled or tasted of dispersant the harvest waters from which it was collected would remain closed. All of the samples collected for reopening passed the sensory evaluation. Nonetheless, to ensure consumers have confidence in the safety of seafood being harvested from the Gulf, NOAA and FDA developed a chemical test for dispersant in seafood. We reanalyzed half of the original samples collected and all new samples with the new chemical test. 99% of samples contained no detectable dispersant residues. For the 1% of samples in which residue was detected, the levels were more than 1,000 times below the levels of concern.

Q:  Can some people eat so much seafood that even a trace amount of oil or dispersant could be harmful to them?

A:  Most of the seafood samples tested had no detectible oil or dispersant residue. For the few samples in which some residue was detected the levels were far lower than the amounts that would cause a health concern, even when eaten on a daily basis. When oil residue was found, the levels were 100 to 1,000 times lower than the levels of concern. In the 1% of samples in which dispersant was detected, the levels were more than 1,000 times lower than the levels of concern. To better understand what this means, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries disclaimer icon and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals calculated the amount of seafood the average person could eat, each day, for 5 years, based on the actual contamination levels, without there being a health concern from the oil. A person could eat, each day, the following:

  • 63 lbs of peeled shrimp (1,575 jumbo shrimp); OR
  • 5 lbs. of oyster meat (130 individual oysters); OR
  • 9 lbs. of fish (18 8-ounce fish filets).

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