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Food safety

seaford platter Our mission is to help ensure that seafood is safe to eat.

We focus particularly on filter-feeding bivalve molluscs (eg, oysters, mussels, scallops, clams, etc), which can bio-accumulate both naturally occurring and man-made contaminants.

Because of these potential food-safety risks European food legislation requires that bivalve mollusc production areas are:

and that following harvesting, molluscs are:

  • subject to either heat treatment, purification in tanks or to relaying, if required by the classification.

These requirements are termed "official controls". Cefas, in conjunction with a range of partner organisations across the UK (known as the Shellfish Partnership) works closely with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and local authorities (in England and Wales) to deliver these official controls, for which the FSA is the statutory authority. 

Laboratory testing is an important element of food safety controls. The Shellfish Partnership provides comprehensive testing services for algal toxins in shellfish, potentially harmful phytoplankton in seawater and chemical contaminants, as well as E.coli analysis. Cefas can also provide specialist testing for virus and marine vibrio species in the event of human health outbreaks or other emergencies involving bivalve shellfish.

European food safety legislation requires member states to designate a National Reference Laboratory (NRL) to:

  • co-ordinate laboratory testing
  • ensure testing quality
  • provide scientific support.

The European Commission designates a European Union Reference Laboratory (EURL) to co-ordinate the activities of NRLs and to give scientific support to the Commission. We have been designated the NRL (by the FSA) and the EURL for bacteriological and viral contamination of bivalve molluscs.

Pollution problems in shellfisheries are best tackled at source. We work with a network of partners, including the Environment Agency, to ensure that the risks from pipeline discharges and other pollution sources are controlled, and to assist compliance with European water quality legislation.

To complement our statutory activities we also undertake a range of R&D work. Areas of current interest are:

  • methods for detecting and characterising pathogens such as noroviruses and vibrios
  • microbiological and algal toxin reference materials
  • microbial source tracking
  • chemical methods for monitoring for algal toxins.

Our science is utilised to support both public- and private-sector customers. If you feel we may be able to help, please contact us at SHS@cefas.co.uk.

© Crown Copyright 2015
Last Modified: 27 April 2014