You've gotta be careful with those wiley bivalve mollusks. Sometimes the tasty filter feeders are packed with enough toxins to -- worst cases -- make you tingle, burn, talk funny, choke, fall over and even die.
That's why the California Department of Public Health routinely sets quarantines on sport-harvested bivalve shelfish such as clams, scallops and mussels, during times when they carry heavy levels of toxins. For mussels, the quarantine generally runs May 1 through Oct. 31. (The quarantine does not apply to commercially harvested shellfish, which are subject to mandatory testing.) And when the toxin levels have decreased to non-dangerous levels, the quarantines are lifted and the public health warnings dropped.
Well, it's been a long, long wait for recreational shellfish afficionados -- last year, Public Health extended the mussel quarantine and added clams and scallops to the avoid-list. Now, at long last, the quarantine has been lifted in Humboldt County and Del Norte County, says a news release from Public Health:
Recent testing shows levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins have declined to safe or undetectable levels.
But note: Marin County bivalves are still not safe, and the quarantine remains in place for them there.
The news release:
SACRAMENTO - The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is lifting the November 6, 2012, health advisory warning consumers not to eat recreationally harvested bivalve shellfish (such as clams and scallops) from Del Norte County. CDPH is also lifting the October 31, 2012, extension of the annual mussel quarantine for Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Recent testing shows levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins have declined to safe or undetectable levels.
The naturally occurring PSP toxins can cause illness or death in humans. There have been no reports of human poisoning from PSP in California during this event.
The health advisory for all sport-harvested bivalve shellfish in Marin County remains in effect. Dangerous levels of the PSP toxins continue to be detected in shellfish samples from this region.
This health advisory does not apply to commercially sold clams, mussels, scallops or oysters from approved sources. State law only permits state-certified commercial shellfish harvesters or dealers to sell these products. Shellfish sold by certified harvesters and dealers are subject to frequent mandatory testing.
This season's conditions highlight the importance of being aware of current restrictions that may be in effect. The CDPH Biotoxin Information Line (1-800-553-4133) provides updates on current quarantines and health advisories throughout the year.
CDPH's ability to protect the public from dangerous PSP toxins is due in large part to the numerous organizations and volunteers that collected shellfish samples for testing. Those who are interested in taking part in this important monitoring program should email RedTide@cdph.ca.gov or call 1-800-553-4133. CDPH can provide the necessary training and equipment for collecting and shipping samples.