Follow shellfish warnings and save lives

Wednesday 19 December, 2012

People are risking their lives when they take and eat shellfish from areas where warnings are in place, the Ministry for Primary Industry (MPI) warns.

With algal blooms occurring on both coasts of the North Island causing some shellfish to become poisonous, MPI Principal Adviser Animal Products Jim Sim says it is vital that people heed warnings.

“We have already seen people in the Bay of Plenty admitted to intensive care after eating shellfish contaminated with paralytic shellfish poisoning toxins, and if toxin levels rise much further we could be looking at fatalities,” Mr Sim says.

Marine toxins are heat stable so cooking contaminated shellfish will not remove them.

“Unfortunately shellfish can be toxic for many months and this is a particular problem for tuatua,” Mr Sim says.

MPI manages a monitoring programme which includes weekly testing of shellfish and seawater from around New Zealand to ensure they are not contaminated with biotoxin from algae blooms.

When biotoxins rise to unsafe levels, public warnings are issued for recreational shellfish harvesting areas via MPI and public health unit websites, and through media statements. Where practicable, warning signs are also placed on beaches and boat ramps.

“It’s impossible to tell from looking at the shellfish which is toxic and which is not, so when warnings go out people need to take note and act accordingly,” Mr Sim says.

He emphasises that New Zealand’s commercially harvested shellfish are safe to eat.

“A comprehensive marine biotoxin monitoring programme is in place to ensure commercial operators don’t harvest from areas affected by toxic blooms. This summer’s poisoning cases have all been the result of recreational catch from areas already subject to warnings.”

Consuming shellfish contaminated with paralytic shellfish toxin can cause numbness and tingling around the mouth, face or extremities; difficulty swallowing or breathing; dizziness; double vision; and – in severe cases – paralysis and respiratory failure.

These symptoms usually occur within 12 hours of a person consuming affected shellfish, and symptoms may progress rapidly causing respiratory failure within two hours.

Anyone suffering illness after eating shellfish should seek urgent medical attention, and keep any leftover shellfish for testing.

Marine biotoxin alerts are notified on MPI’s website:

Marine biotoxin alerts

MPI’s website has tips for seafood gatherers on how to keep their seafood safe:

Food safety for seafood gatherers


For media inquiries please call:

Miriam Meister, Senior Communications Adviser
Telephone: 04-894 2466 or 029 894 2466
or call the MPI Media phone 029 894 0328.

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