Guidelines for Handling Fish
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2000

Susan D. Crissey, PhD1; Kerri A. Slifka1, MS; Susan Bunn Spencer2

1Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Conservation Biology and Research Center, Chicago Zoological Society, Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield, IL, USA; 2Grand Rapids, MI, USA


Most captive fish-eating animals are fed frozen, thawed fish that are received in bulk and stored for a period of time before being prepared by cutting prior to feeding. Given the perishable nature of fish, appropriate handling is crucial to minimize nutrient loss and bacterial load. Fish should be supplied from fisheries that have caught, processed, and stored the fish as if it were intended for human use. Guaranteeing that the supplier utilizes a hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) program can help ensure that fish supplies have been handled appropriately prior to receipt.4,5 Every lot of fish should be inspected before paperwork is signed and the load is officially received. Once accepted, fish should be placed immediately in the institution’s storage facility. It is recommended that fish stored for prolonged periods should be in a freezer maintained at -23°C or lower. Fish should be thawed under refrigeration, never at room temperature and kept refrigerated until fed to the animals.3 Equipment used for holding, thawing, or preparing fish must be cleaned and sanitized daily.3 In order to ensure that conditions are appropriate and methods for storage and handling fish are proper, validation of conditions and procedures is necessary. Fish can be sampled for microbial buildup of a number of specific organisms at various stages of thawing and handling.1 Fish should also be sampled for nutrients, toxins, and heavy metals. A pamphlet is available that details these standard operating procedures.2

Literature Cited

1.  Crissey SD, Allen ME, Baer DJ. Food handling and commissary procedures. In: Meehan TP, Allen ME, eds. Proceedings of the 6th and 7th Dr. Scholl Conferences on the Nutrition of Captive Wild Animals, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, IL; December 1987. 119–123.

2.  Crissey SD. Handling Fish Fed to Fish-Eating Animals: A Manual of Standard Operating Procedures. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agriculture Research Service, National Agricultural Library, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). htpp:// Beltsville, MD. 1998.

3.  United States Department of Agriculture [USDA]. Title 9 Code of Federal Regulations, Animals and Animal Products, Part 3—Standards, Subpart E, §3.105 & §3.107, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Washington, DC. 1999.

4.  htpp:// Accessed March 20, 2000.

5.  United States Department of Agriculture [USDA] Food Safety and Inspection Service. The Final Rule on Pathogen Reduction and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Systems. htpp:// Published 1996. Accessed March 21, 2000.


Speaker Information
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Kerri A. Slifka, MS
Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Conservation Biology and Research Center
Chicago Zoological Society
Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield, IL, USA

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