Shellfish harvesting halted after 70 show symptoms of food poisoning

'Unusually high' levels of naturally-occurring toxins have been detected in waters around Shetland.

Mussels stand in way of flood prevention scheme

Shellfish harvesting has been halted throughout Shetland and mussels have been withdrawn from market after 70 people reported symptoms of food poisoning in England.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said "unusually high" levels of naturally-occurring toxins, which can cause diarrhetic shellfish poisoning, have been detected in nearby waters.

These cases, most of which happened between July 13 and 15, have been linked to the eating of mussels from Shetland.

It was after the harvest of these mussels that the FSA recorded the high levels of toxins during their weekly monitoring programme.

According to the FSA, these toxins are produced by marine phytoplankton and levels are typically higher in summer, but harvesting waters are closed if the legal limit is exceeded.

A total of 11 harvesting areas in waters to the north and west of the islands have been shut by the local authority and businesses operating in the remaining nine areas have decided to voluntarily stop commercial harvesting, said Maggie Sandison, executive manager of environmental health at Shetland Islands Council.

"This year we've seen an unprecedented amount of toxin and the levels have increased from one week to another higher than we've ever seen before," she said.

"It's been an unusual year, so obviously we want to see what's happened this year compared with previous years and see whether the existing approaches and risk assessments that the businesses have are still appropriate based on the information about what's happened this year."

Shetland Mussels is the company that supplied the affected shellfish.

The business has told the FSA that all of their customers have been contacted and all mussels from that batch have been consumed or disposed of.

Michael Tait, managing director of Shetland Mussels, said: "This is the first time that we have experienced a problem with customer illness in our 16 years of production.

"Shetland Mussels is SALSA approved with full traceability, which has allowed us to isolate the affected batches, and this system has worked well in this situation. We have been proactive in working with the customers and the authorities in investigating this incident.

"All the product is out of the market now and there's no danger to the public at the moment."

Mr Tait explained that the harvesting area had been open at the time the batch was dispatched and that the company had a system in place, approved by local environmental health officers and external auditors, to manage the risk of increased levels of toxin during summer.

He added: "Unfortunately, and regrettably, the unprecedented increases seen here meant the toxin levels increased within the timeframe between samples.

"We will therefore fully review our systems prior to commencement of harvesting to ensure that if the same circumstances occur again in the future there will be no risk to consumers."

Ruth Henderson, chief executive of Seafood Shetland, said the trade association was satisfied Shetland Mussels followed the correct procedures and that a full investigation was under way.

She also expressed regret that some of the affected mussels had been consumed.

She said: "Diarrhetic shellfish poisoning is caused by naturally-occurring algal blooms. The recent warmer temperatures have led to an unprecedented level and increase of algal blooms.

"Because shellfish is particularly delicate and susceptible to tainting, growers are always very cautious about maintaining the quality of the product.

"As a result, a voluntary withdrawal of all Shetland mussels from the market has been undertaken until the current high levels of toxins in the water has subsided.

"Customers can be assured that Shetland mussel farmers will take every precaution necessary to protect the excellent reputation that their product has attained in the marketplace."

The FSA said mussels were supplied to a number of restaurants, some through a number of intermediary suppliers and customers reported being unwell after eating at: Belgo in Covent Garden, Holborn, Clapham and Bromley; Zero Degrees in Blackheath and Reading; The Phoenix near Hook, Hampshire; Boulevard Brasserie in Covent Garden; and Pig's Ears in Richmond.

These premises were said to have acted appropriately by notifying the relevant authorities when the cases of illness were identified.

Jacqui McElhiney from the FSA said: "This year we have detected very high levels of toxins and there's been an unusually high number of closures of harvesting areas.

"We're not sure why this has occurred but it's likely to have been due to a combination of factors such as the warmer conditions this summer."

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check. That e-mail's already in our system. Please try again.
ShowHide
Forgot password?
This field is required. At least 6 characters please. Did you enter your details correctly?
If you've forgotten your details then use the 'Forgot password?' link.
Need to reset your password?

We'll send a link to reset your password to

We've sent you details on how to reset your password

Please check your email and follow the instructions.

Forgotten your email address?

Have you forgotten the email address that you previously joined with? Don't worry, by emailing enquiries@stv.tv we can help.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
At least 6 characters please
ShowHide
This field is required. At least 6 characters please.
You have to be 16 or over to join
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date
Type your full postcode and select your address This field is required. It doesn't look like you've entered a valid postcode. Can't find your address? Confirm the details you've given us are correct by clicking here

By continuing you agree to our Terms of Use, including our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy. Any issues contact us.

Upload Profile Picture

Please make sure your image is under 2mb in size and a valid JPG, PNG or GIF.

Are you sure?

Unfortunately, you'll be unable to access our premium content. We’ll be sorry to see you go, but if you change your mind you can rejoin us at any time.

Please verify your STV account

Please verify your STV account using the email we sent you. If you have lost the email, we can send you another one, just click the button below.

Thanks

We've sent you a new verification email.
Please check your email and follow the instructions to verify your account.

Welcome to STV
Thanks for joining us.

Oops!

Sorry, you must be at least 12 years old to place a vote for your Real Hero.

Please review our Voting Terms of Use for more information.

Oops!

Sorry! It seems that you are using a browser that is incompatible with our voting service.

To register your vote please copy the below URL in to your regular mobile browser. We recommend Google Chrome, or Safari.

http://shows.stv.tv/real-heroes/voting

Oops!

Sorry, you seem to have already voted in this category.

Thanks for voting

Now share your vote with friends on your social network

Share on twitter Share on facebook

Cast your vote

Please register or sign in to continue.

Cast your vote

This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date

Cast your vote

Please fill out this form to cast your vote. As you are under 16 years old you will not create an STV account. Why do we need these details?

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check.
Location This field is required.
Parental Consent This field is required.

That's you. All that's left is to click the 'Submit Vote' button below. By doing so, you confirm that you and your parent or guardian have read and accept our Voting Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Cookie policy, and that the details you have entered are correct. We'll look after them as carefully as if they were our own.