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article imageWarm weather brings warnings to shellfish lovers nationwide

By Karen Graham     May 20, 2017 in Health
As warm weather approaches, health officials from the Pacific Northwest to the coast of Florida and on up the East Coast are warning shellfish lovers of the dangers of eating raw or undercooked oysters or other shellfish.
While the traditional Memorial Day weekend that kicks off the summer season is still a week away, health departments in New York, Florida and the west coast have already issued warnings on the harvesting and consuming of shellfish in a number of locales.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds us that almost 80 percent of infections from consuming contaminated shellfish occur between May and October when water temperatures are warmer.
And it is also important to keep in mind that contaminated oysters and other shellfish do not look, smell or taste bad.
A floating platform used for cleaning and sorting of oysters is seen at Hollywood Oyster farm in the...
A floating platform used for cleaning and sorting of oysters is seen at Hollywood Oyster farm in the waters of Chesapeake Bay near Hollywood, MD on March 20, 2014
Mladen Antonov, AFP
Warnings around the country
The Florida Department of Health in Escambia County issued a public health advisory, urging residents and visitors to protect against foodborne illness by avoiding the consumption of raw or undercooked oysters and other shellfish.
"Each year, we see cases of foodborne illness resulting from eating raw or undercooked seafood, particularly raw oysters,” said FDOH-Escambia Director, John J. Lanza, MD, Ph.D., MPH, FAAP. “I cannot stress enough the importance of enjoying oysters and other seafood that are properly handled and cooked.”
And in New York state, Suffolk County Health Commissioner James Tomarken on Friday issued a warning to residents and visitors on the North Fork to avoid harvesting and eating shellfish in James Creek in Mattituck until further notice.
The warning came after the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation issued a temporary ban on the harvesting of carnivorous gastropods (whelks, conchs, moon snails) in James Creek after laboratory tests revealed the presence of saxitoxin, a marine biotoxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning in mussels from James Creek.
"Though James Creek was already closed for harvesting of shellfish, including oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops, from May 1 to November 30 due to bacteriological concerns, this new ban prohibits harvesting of three gastropods: whelks, conchs, and moon snails, which had until present been allowed for harvest,” Tomarken said. “Our concern is for the health of the public.”
The Pacific Northwest has the added health risks of domoic acid poisoning because this infection is not just a summer health risk. Changing weather patterns created by El Nino and climate change are causing problems year round now, according to a report in January put out by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“Hazardous levels of domoic acid, a natural toxin that accumulates in shellfish, have been linked to warmer ocean conditions in waters off Oregon and Washington for the first time by a NOAA-supported research team, led by Oregon State University scientists,” says the report.
UCSC researcher Kendra Negrey collects mussels for research on the accumulation of freshwater toxins...
UCSC researcher Kendra Negrey collects mussels for research on the accumulation of freshwater toxins in shellfish. (Photo by John Negrey)
UC Santa Cruz
Reducing your risks in six easy steps
1. Don’t eat raw or undercooked oysters or other shellfish. Cook them before eating.
2. Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling raw shellfish.
3. Avoid contaminating cooked shellfish with raw shellfish and its juices.
4. Wash wounds and cuts thoroughly with soap and water if they have been exposed to seawater or raw seafood.
5. Avoid cross-contamination of cooked seafood and other foods with raw seafood and juices from raw seafood.
6. Eat shellfish promptly after cooking and refrigerate leftovers.
More about Shellfish, Warm weather, NOAA, algae blooms, raw shellfish
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