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Foods -- Seafood

What agency regulates harvesting of molluscan shellfish and what safety measures are used to prevent distribution of shellfish harvested from polluted waters?

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In North Carolina, the Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources' Office of Shellfish Sanitation is the responsible agency. The critical point in assuring the safety of shellfish is proper classification of shellfish-growing waters. Since molluscan shellfish are filter feeders, they indiscriminately filter particles from the water, including potentially harmful bacteria and viruses. To minimize this risk, the Office of Shellfish Sanitation routinely monitors the bacteriological quality of shellfish-growing waters and classifies them accordingly. When the bacteria level exceeds a specific criteria, the area is closed to the harvesting of shellfish. The area could be reopened, but only after the shellfish sanitarians determine that the bacteriological quality of the water has improved. The Office of Shellfish Sanitation is also responsible for monitoring shellfish processing plants to ensure that harvested products are processed in a clean and wholesome manner.

Consumers can protect themselves by purchasing shellfish from processors and dealers who are certified by the North Carolina Office of Shellfish Sanitation. Do not purchase products from any dealer that cannot properly document the origin of the product.

SOURCE: Donn Ward, Ph.D., Joyce Taylor, and David Green, Ph.D., Department of Food Science, NC State University

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