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Networking: Michael Haby

Seafood Marketing Specialist, Texas Sea Grant; Professor and extension economist, Texas A&M University

“HACCP is like knot tying. There’s the right knot for tying down 2-by-4s, and there’s a knot for lowering yourself down a cliff. HACCP focuses on the hazard related to what you’re processing and it addresses how to best control those hazards.”     —Michael Haby   Seafood Marketing Specialist, Texas Sea Grant Professor and extension economist, Texas A&M University
By James Wright
April 05, 2012

Mike Haby literally wrote the book on retail seafood. His meticulously detailed, step-by-step guidance tome “Improving the Performance of Full-Service Retail Seafood Departments” reads like a graduate-level textbook covering everything from proper handling procedures that control spoilage bacteria to commanding the cold chain in order to maximize shelf life and reduce shrink. The book was written with three key objectives in mind: keep it cold, keep it clean and keep it moving. A team of Sea Grant researchers — including Russell Miget, Thomas Rippen and Charles Coale Jr. — put it together back in 1999. 

It’s a timeless subject, because little has changed in the food-safety realm since then; Haby credits the federal Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points program for a lot of that success. He has no idea how many copies were sold or given away over the years, because the Corpus Christie, Texas, native would rather look ahead (there’s still some copies left, though). His current Trade Adjustment Assistance Program project, “Don’t Get Docked at the Dock,” aims to help Gulf shrimp fishermen realize fair market value for their product. Haby says the industry there was “once the dog, but now it’s the tail of the dog.” 

 Who’s gotten the most out of your book?  

The most feedback I ever got was from a client who became a friend — Rich Catanzaro at H.E.B. He unfortunately passed away in March 2003. He was one of the most creative people I ever met. 

When I came to Texas A&M in 1982, back then seafood was still a nuance in the supermarket sector. Lots of operators were trying but losing a lot of money. Putting on seafood seminars, I worked with every chain in the state and some outside of Texas. 

What’s a greater challenge, reducing shrink or teaching proper handling?  

I don’t think that’s a tradeoff — proper handling will reduce shrink. Shrink is something that HQ staff understands really well, but the workers aren’t getting much money talk. Handling is a process. There still seems to be a number of difficulties in illustrating the invisible: “I don’t see what you’re talking about so it’s not real.” [Full-service seafood employees need to] understand the fact that the four-day-old cod looks fine, but it’s next to the haddock that just came in. If you just picked it up without a glove change, you just aged the haddock. 

Have any once-common handling procedures been abandoned?  

In 1987, a meat and seafood manager was rinsing off his fish fillets and I asked him if he would rinse off a ribeye. He said, “No way, it’s too delicate.” Well, compared to a flounder fillet, it’s like an anvil! 

We went back to the right things that should be done and we came up with a long list. You can make a handling mistake in 3 seconds. We needed a simple, rudimentary program and what we came up with was a management [tool] more than anything else. 

HACCP is 15 years old. You’re a professor — give it a grade.  

A-minus. At the processing level it’s been beneficial; it’s standardized some things. With shrimp, for example, the only hassle is an allergen in the sulfide compounds. But if you’re a blue crab processor or an oyster shucker, then time out of temperature is a big deal. 

HACCP is like knot tying. There’s the right knot for tying down 2-by-4s, and there’s a knot for lowering yourself down a cliff. HACCP focuses on the hazard related to what you’re processing and it addresses how to best control those hazards. It’s a logical process. 

April 2012 - SeaFood Business 

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