A schooling on marine biotoxins
The Head of the Food Safety and Quality Unit at the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) talks marine biotoxins with New Food’s Editor, Bethan Grylls.
Marine biotoxins are naturally occurring chemicals produced by algae that grows in fish and shellfish. These toxins can cause diarrhoea, amnesia, paralysis or even death in severe cases. To protect consumers, regulatory authorities have set limits for allowable biotoxin levels in seafood.
Typically, biotoxins start in molluscs, which filter water and ingest biotoxin-producing phytoplankton; these cause no harm to the molluscs, but as bigger fish eat them, they can become infected with these biotoxins. As these fish are eaten by still larger marine life, they too become infected, and so on. If infected fish finds its way into the human food supply chain, it can have mild to devastating consequences.
Although our understanding of marine biotoxins has improved significantly, we are still unsure of how many variations exist. “We have created tools, analytical chemistry, that enable us to identify the different substances and we can even classify them by the kinds of reaction they cause,” Dr Markus Lipp, a Senior Food Safety Officer and Head of the Food Safety and Quality Unit at the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), told New Food.