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Warning issued about increased levels of toxins in shellfish

Posted: 6 July 2020 | | No comments yet

Increased toxin levels have been detected in recent weeks during a routine nationwide shellfish monitoring programme along the South West and West coasts of Ireland.

Warning issued about increased levels of toxins in shellfish

The Marine Institute in Ireland has detected levels of naturally occurring compounds in shellfish that can cause illness in human consumers, and has warned people against recreational gathering of shellfish. 

The occurrence of these compounds is due to microscopic phytoplankton species, common in coastal waters during summer. The toxins they produce can accumulate in filter feeding shellfish and can cause foodborne illness, even if cooked.

Similar to previous years, the problem has resulted in the temporary closure of certain commercial production areas issued by the Institute, who jointly manage the monitoring programme with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Sea Fishery Protection Authority.

The toxins detected at the present time are high levels of Diarrheic shellfish poisoning (DSP) which can result in a temporary gastroenteritis-like illness and a less common Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP), which can result in serious illness. All commercial harvesting in affected areas has ceased and alternative safe product from other parts of the country is available through approved suppliers to retailers and restaurants.

“In Ireland we operate a world class shellfish safety programme to ensure food safety prior to harvesting. This sophisticated monitoring programme is designed to protect the consumer and ensure the highest quality of Irish shellfish on international and home markets,” said Dave Clarke, Manager of the Marine Institute’s Shellfish Safety programme. “This summer, so far, has seen high levels of toxic phytoplankton and toxins in shellfish requiring temporary closures until the problem abates. It is stressed, however, that these only affect shellfish. Swimming and other coastal recreations are not affected. We would strongly advise the public to avoid picking their own along the shoreline, and to only source shellfish from an approved retail establishment.”

As people are expected to visit the coast for recreation in coming weeks as lockdown restrictions ease, the risk of public harvesting mussels, clams, cockles or oysters for their own consumption will increase, according to the institute. As such, this has been warned against and it has been stressed that only shellfish obtained through approved retailers should be consumed.

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