FDA Issues Warning on Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning: Key Information for Consumers

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an urgent advisory for consumers to avoid shellfish from Oregon and Washington state due to contamination with toxins causing paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). Here’s what you need to know:

Contaminated Areas and Distribution
The FDA specifically advises against consuming oysters and bay clams harvested from:

  • Netarts and Tillamook bays in northern Oregon since May 28
  • Areas around Willapa Bay in southern Washington since May 26
  • These contaminated shellfish have been distributed to several states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, and New York.
  • Restaurants and retailers in these areas are advised not to serve or sell shellfish from these sources.

Health Impact and Symptoms
PSP is caused by saxitoxin, a neurotoxin produced by algae. Symptoms typically appear within 30 to 60 minutes of consumption and can include:

  • Numbness of the mouth and lips
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat in severe cases
  • There is no antidote for PSP, and severe cases may require mechanical ventilation. However, patients surviving the first 24 hours generally have a good prognosis with no lasting effects.

Cooking and Safety
Authorities warn that cooking or freezing contaminated shellfish does not eliminate the toxins. Consumers are urged to avoid eating potentially contaminated shellfish altogether.

Response and Measures
In response to the outbreak, Oregon has closed its entire coastline to the harvesting of mussels, razor clams, and bay clams. Additionally, commercial oyster harvesting has been halted in the affected bays. Washington state has also closed its Pacific coastline to the harvesting of various shellfish.

Environmental Factors
A significant algal bloom, driven by favorable wind and water conditions, high water temperatures, and nutrient run-off, has led to unprecedented PSP toxin levels along Oregon’s coast. This situation may persist for weeks to months, or even up to a year, depending on the shellfish species.

Ongoing Monitoring
The Oregon Department of Agriculture continues to test for shellfish toxins at least twice a month. Areas will only reopen for harvesting after two consecutive tests show toxin levels below safe thresholds.

Consumers are advised to stay informed and exercise caution when consuming shellfish from affected regions. For the latest updates and detailed information, consult the FDA and state health department resources.

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