Public warned on shellfish poisoning

Tue, Aug 14, 2012, 01:00

About a dozen people have become ill with suspected food poisoning in recent weeks after gathering mussels and other shellfish from the shoreline in parts of the west and southwest coast.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) warned locals and holidaymakers visiting these areas of dangers of gathering and consuming wild shellfish growing on the seashore.

It said there had been over 10 reports of illness in Galway, Mayo and Sligo in the past number of weeks. It suspects the reports are linked to harmful algal blooms occurring naturally along these parts of the coast.

Bi-valve shellfish such as mussels, oysters, scallops, cockles and clams should only be purchased from reputable suppliers and not gathered in the wild, the authority said.

“Commercial producers of shellfish operate under a sophisticated national monitoring programme which manages the risks, with test results issued by the Marine Institute on an ongoing basis and a weekly status report is provided for bays where commercial harvesting of shellfish has been suspended because of high biotoxin levels.”

It said that if people gathered their own shellfish, they needed to be aware of the risks they were taking.

FSAI chief executive Prof Alan Reilly said some residents and visitors engaged in the recreational gathering of shellfish in the region may be unaware of the dangers of consuming the shellfish they come across.

“Wild shellfish found along the west coast may contain naturally occurring toxins that cannot be removed through cooking alone,” he said.

“Eating shellfish contaminated with these toxins can lead to people suffering nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and stomach cramps. The effects are not life-threatening but can be particularly severe for older people, young children and people who may already be ill from another medical condition.”

Anyone suffering from such symptoms is advised to contact their local GP.

Consumers with food safety queries may contact the Food Safety Advice Line on 1890 33 66 77.

Further information on the monitoring programme for shellfish is available from the Marine Institute at marine.ie.

Authorities in Donegal temporarily closed two beaches recently after discoloured reddish-brown water was observed along large stretches of the coastline.

The phenomenon was due to algal bloom known as Karenia mikimotoi along the north west coast. Some oyster farms reported losses of between 20 per cent and 80 per cent of their products. In its latest update, the Marine Institute said the bloom had finally began to subside.