According to the European Commission, regulations on bivalve molluscs in EU countries are not always sufficient to protect consumer health.
Bivalves include mussels, clams, oysters, and scallops. France, Spain, Italy and Greece account for over 80% of his European production, mostly from aquaculture.
They feed by filtering algae from the water around them, which can accumulate microbes and chemical contaminants. Some algae species produce marine biotoxins, which accumulate in bivalve tissues and can cause human disease when certain levels are exceeded.
The EU Commission has collected information from 15 member states producing bivalve molluscs through four audits, 11 questionnaire responses, and other publicly available data, and published a summary report. .
National agencies are responsible for controlling the areas where bivalve molluscs are produced and harvested.
EU legislation addresses microbiological risks by requiring the classification of areas from which mollusks are collected. Locations must be listed as Class A, B, or C depending on microbial status, using E. coli as an indicator of faecal contamination. The classification determines post-harvest processing.
Earlier this year, at least 170 people in Finland fell ill after eating oysters in various restaurants in February and March. In March, seven people became ill with norovirus in mussels in Sweden. Norovirus in oysters from France affected three cases, and oysters from the Netherlands were associated with 15 illnesses. In February, 20 people in Belgium fell ill with norovirus in oysters from France. In Denmark, two outbreaks caused by oysters occurred in late 2022 and early 2023, the first causing 19 cases and the second causing 73 cases.
The report found that while most countries maintain up-to-date lists of classified production sites, there are major differences in the deployment of sanitary surveillance. In some cases, taxonomy reviews have ignored results that exceed the norm or have been based on the results of operator checks without following EU regulations on the use of this data.
Some Member States monitor the microbial quality of the production area only during the harvest period, which is not compliant with EU regulations. Other issues include selection of sampling points and indicator species.
The Commission said a general shortcoming in the quality of the surveys was related to the lack of sampling frequency recommendations, the lack of sampled species and sites, and the inability to prove the representativeness of the sampling sites. .
act on findings
Surveillance of sensitive production areas for biotoxins is often not compliant with EU requirements, mainly due to the frequency and variety of biotoxins tested. The EU Marine Biotoxins Reference Laboratory (EURL) is working on a guide for monitoring biotoxins in bivalve mollusk collection areas.
Member States generally take action when monitoring tests indicate potential health risks. However, system weaknesses can affect timely detection of certain risks or delay response to risks.
Countries generally follow legal requirements to reopen production areas that have been closed due to surveillance results. However, some do not consider relevant data during taxonomy reviews.
According to the report, recall of bivalve molluscs, which could pose a risk to consumers, appears to be a problem in part due to the perishable nature of the product when placed on the market alive.
The European Commission will conduct further audits on other bivalve producing Member States. Current discussions focus on improving the traceability of shellfish for purification or exchange between nations, and possibly reviewing the biotoxin content of shellfish.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here. )