The state’s Department of Agriculture has just unveiled a new online training program for state seafood workers in an effort to help them field questions about the safety of Gulf of Mexico seafood.

The program, which is in its infancy, allows trainees to go through a fictional restaurant where they “shadow” the waitstaff and learn to answer common questions about the safety of gulf seafood. The multimedia program is available online.

According to the state Department of Agriculture’s Martin May, the program is a partnership with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging association, which has chapters across the state.

“Florida has suffered from a one-two punch in recent years. … First,with the economy — which drove people out of restaurants and back into homes,” says May. “And then the oil spill happens.”

One of the issues with most training programs, according to May, is that restaurants don’t always have the capability of offering training programs, and the waitstaff doesn’t want to go through training without getting paid.

“All these servers have to field a lot of questions, so we developed this online training module,” May says. “We didn’t want to get deep into the science, but rather arm waitstaff with good common-sense information to help them handle the questions and develop an attack plan.”

Of the questions often asked of Florida waitstaff, “Is gulf seafood safe?” and, “Is it being tested?” are some of the most common.

According to information contained in the training program, “Florida’s seafood is the most tested seafood in the world.” But recent surveys have shown that at least 63 percent of Florida residents still have concerns about the quality of the fish coming from the gulf, which still shows some oil slicks (in fact, concerns have increased since this past winter).

The state’s Division of Food Safety regularly tests gulf seafood for dispersants and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, both of which were released into the water after last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster. According to information from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, all findings have so far been well below the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s levels of concern.

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