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Food poisoning outbreak stops mussel harvest

Shetland Mussels

MUSSEL harvesting at Shetland’s 24 shellfish farms has been shut down after around 70 people in England came down with food poisoning almost two weeks ago.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has reported that customers at restaurants in and around London have reported symptoms associated with the shellfish toxin diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP), which is caused by a naturally occurring phytoplankton which blooms in the sea .

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The mussels were sourced from west side company Shetland Mussels, who said that this is the first time this has happened in 16 years of production.

The mussels were harvested two weeks ago from one site, resulting in restaurant customers coming down with sickness and diarrhoea.

The company said that it had recalled all affected products and stressed there was no current risk to customers.

The rest of the industry has stopped harvesting voluntarily until the algal bloom has subsided.

Shetland Mussels managing director Michael Tait, who was this year elected chairman of the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group

Shetland Mussels said they were working with the local environmental health department and the FSA to understand how the toxins had slipped through the rigorous monitoring system the site is controlled by.

Shetland Islands Council environmental health manager Maggie Dunne said she had experienced an incident where toxins had developed so quickly.

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“What we have seen is between one sample being taken and the next sample being taken a massive increase in toxins, which has resulted in mussels with toxins in them being sold on the market,” she said.

“We have never seen this level of increase in toxins from one sample to another and the amount of toxin over the safe level is unusual and very peculiar to this year.”

The FSA were contacted by the Belgo restaurant chain after customers eating at four of its outlets fell ill.

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The Boulevard Brasserie, in London's Covent Garden, one of four restaurants where customers fell ill

In a statement, Belgo said: “The mussels were harvested in an area with unusually high levels of naturally occurring toxicity and the product has been removed from all our restaurants as soon as we discovered that it might cause ill health.

“We can confirm that there is no risk for customers.

“We operate a robust supplier approval and monitoring program, ensuring suppliers achieve the best industry standards.

“The product in question was harvested from areas monitored by the Food Standards Agency Scotland and approved safe.

“We continue to liaise closely with the supplier as we investigate this matter further.”

The Shetland mussel industry is worth £5 million a year and employs 132 people at 24 sites across the isles.

It produces 69 per cent of Scotland’s mussels and recently achieved accreditation for sustainability from the Marine Stewardship Council.

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