R-20-04 Industry-established food safety guidelines for post-harvest handling of edible seaweed towards a more resilient coastal community

Carrie Bryon
University of New England

Kristin Burkholder
University of New England

Seaweed aquaculture is a growing industry in New England, with sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima) being one of the top three species grown by commercial producers in Maine. While seaweed has antimicrobial properties, there is little data available that assesses bacterial exposure, or lack thereof, during post-harvest processing. Coliforms (e.g. E. coli) and Vibrio species are of particular concern, as they are becoming more prevalent as waters warm in the Gulf of Maine and can cause severe human gastrointestinal infections. Since seaweed aquaculture is a relatively new industry, there are currently no FDA growing regulations or restrictions for bacterial monitoring. Yet, with the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011, food facilities are required to have a Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Preventive Controls plan (HARCP) that addresses pathogen risks. For seaweed producers to develop a plan, more data is needed.

The goal of this project is to create guidelines for handling and processing edible seaweed. Researchers will be using bacterial plate counts and molecular techniques (qPCR) to examine the influence of post-harvest storage temperatures and various drying processes (sun drying, oven drying and freeze drying) on the growth and viability of pathogens. The data will be used to inform best management practices and protocols, mitigate public health concerns, and promote the social acceptance of edible seaweed.

Two-year project, 2020-2022
Sea Grant funds: $149,967