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Algal toxins surveillance

Phyto bloom picture from ESA Scotland 070508

At certain times of the year naturally occurring algae in the sea can give rise to blooms, which may not necessarily be noticeable. Algae in these blooms may produce potent biotoxins. These can accumulate in filter-feeding bivalve molluscs and sometimes in other shellfish, such as grazing gastropods.

Eating shellfish contaminated with marine biotoxins may pose risks: for those consuming the food, as well as for the seafood industry.

In the European Union (including the UK) there are currently three major shellfish biotoxin groups (PDF, 140 KB) that can be detected in shellfish, which are subject to statutory testing to protect human health. These are:

  • paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins
  • lipophilic toxins, including those responsible for diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP)
  • amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP) toxins.

EC Regulation 854/2004 prescribes the legal controls that are placed on the production and marketing of live bivalve shellfish to ensure that contaminated shellfish are not placed on the market. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is the competent authority implementing and enforcing this legislation.

The FSA has contracted our Harmful Algal Blooms in Shellfish (HABS) team to co-ordinate and deliver the national biotoxin monitoring programmes for England, Wales and Scotland. Shellfish from all currently classified shellfish production and re-laying areas are monitored for toxins in shellfish flesh and water for the presence of harmful algae. This work provides up-to-date information on the toxin status of over 230 classified areas across Great Britain, assisting the FSA and local food enforcement authorities in safeguarding public health.

This work is supported by strong science and active, high-profile research programmes that develop, validate and apply chemical methods, and produce laboratory reference materials. 

For further information about our services and advice on this topic, contact us:

Telephone: +44 (0) 1305 206600
Email: biotoxinmonitoring@cefas.co.uk 

© Crown Copyright 2015
Last Modified: 27 April 2014