Processing Fish for Food

​​If you process fish or seafood as human food, your processing facility must comply with minimum construction and sanitary standards. The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection's Division of Food & Recreational Safety can provide information on sanitary requirements for facilities as well as licensing requirements.

When you raise fish or other seafood and process it for use as human food, you need to understand that fish and fish products pose unique quality and safety concerns compared to most other foods. Processing facilities and equipment must comply with minimum construction and sanitary standards. The processor must understand and control the conditions that may cause the finished product to be unsafe.

Processing criteria to be controlled include:

  • Eviscerating and scaling/skinning procedures are performed in a sanitary manner;
  • Fish are cooled at the time of harvest to 38 degrees Fahrenheit or less while transported or further processed;
  • Fish are not contaminated by unsafe chemicals, pesticides or drug residues;
  • "Ready-to-eat" products are effectively separated from raw fish products; and
  • Cooked and smoked fish products are processed within the prescribed safety standards.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as DATCP, have mandated that all processors of fish and fish products must conduct all processing under a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point system, known as HACCP and pronounced "hassup." There are minimum training requirements and/or HACCP experience criteria to be met, and DATCP along with the University of Wisconsin and FDA will continue to provide this educational opportunity for Wisconsin processors whenever possible.

Lastly, all Wisconsin processors of fish or fish products must hold a Food Processing Plant or Retail Food Establishment license. The license fees are based on the annual dollar volume of product processed and range from $40 to $550. Processing includes scaling, skinning, filleting, grinding, breading, cooking, and smoking, but it does not include heading and eviscerating conducted on a harvest vessel.

More specific information concerning sanitary requirements about facilities, equipment and licensing is available by contacting the Division of Food & Recreational Safety.  They can answer questions about specific products, processes, training, facilities and equipment.