Contaminants, including marine biotoxins, bacteria and viruses, can make you sick. Washing and cooking shellfish may kill some bacteria and viruses, but biotoxins and chemical contaminants are not removed by washing, cooking, or freezing. Shellfish safety also cannot be determined by the color of the shellfish or the water in the area.
All areas harvested by commercial shellfish companies are tested and approved by WDOH to make sure water quality in the area is safe. However, WDOH does not regularly test private tidelands and beaches. If you live near a public beach with shellfish harvest, or a commercial shellfish operation, you may be able to infer if and when shellfish from your beach are safe to eat. But caution is always advised.
Biotoxins, such as Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP or “red tide”), Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning, and Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning, are marine toxins that can concentrate in shellfish, and make them unsafe to eat. Biotoxins are commonly found in our marine waters and eating contaminated shellfish can result in severe illness or death.
SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION IF, WITHIN MINUTES OR SEVERAL HOURS AFTER EATING SHELLFISH, YOU EXPERIENCE:
- Numbness of the lips and tongue
- Tingling in your toes and fingertips
- Loss of muscular control
- Difficulty in breathing
Other non-chemical contaminants that can be found in shellfish include the norovirus and vibrio. Illness from either of these can be avoided by thoroughly cooking shellfish. Avoid eating raw shellfish after periods of hot weather or stick to farmed shellfish (which are regularly monitored) from reputable shellfish companies.