Safety and first aid

Wild shellfish collection

Seafood such as oysters, mussels, clams, pipis, scallops, cockles and razor clams are known as shellfish. As a general rule shellfish do not include crustaceans such as shrimp, prawns, crabs and lobsters.

Is it safe to eat shellfish?

Shellfish have a protective shell and feed by filtering and eating algae and other microscopic organisms in the water. If the water is polluted the animal can accumulate the harmful substances in their flesh, making people sick when they eat the shellfish.

Pollutants that can be present in the water include bacteria, viruses, metals and algal toxins. Many of these toxins and other harmful pollutants are not destroyed through cooking.

The Department of Health recommends only eating shellfish that have been harvested commercially under strict monitoring programs that ensure the waters are free from pollutants and toxins. These safety programs include routine testing of the animal as well as the waters to make sure the shellfish are safe to eat.

What are wild shellfish?

Shellfish that are caught outside monitored waterways are known as wild shellfish, and their safety for consumption cannot be assured due to the pollutants and micro-organisms that can be present in the water. The sources of these pollutants include:

  • algal blooms – not all algal blooms are visible to the naked eye
  • run-off from heavy rainfall (do not collect wild shellfish for several days following heavy rainfall)
  • water that has been closed, such as due to a sewage overflow (look for health warning signs along the shoreline)
  • harbours, boat moorings, marinas or ports
  • off shore wastewater outfall mixing zones, locations of these are available by contacting the Water Corporation (external site).
What are the symptoms of shellfish poisoning?

Symptoms of shellfish food poisoning may range from diarrhoea and or vomiting to severe respiratory and neurological problems, and occasionally even death. 

If food poisoning symptoms occur after eating shellfish, seek medical advice immediately and save any leftover food for possible investigation and laboratory testing.

Safe care of shellfish

  • Shellfish is a perishable high risk food and should be stored when cold at 5 degrees Celsius or below and at 60 degrees Celsius and above when hot.
  • Never leave out at room temperature unless being consumed, and remember to cover up left-overs promptly and refrigerate as soon as possible.
  • Always defrost frozen seafood in the refrigerator or in a microwave oven set on “defrost”.

More information

Contact the environmental health officer in your local government area (external site).

You can also contact the Food Unit at the Environmental Health Directorate, phone 9388 4999.

Remember

  • Shellfish can sometimes accumulate harmful substances in their flesh which can make people sick if eaten.
  • It is impossible to guarantee the safety of eating wild shellfish.
  • You may be putting your health at risk when collecting and eating wild shellfish.
  • Buy commercial shellfish from reputable and licensed seafood shops.
  • Children, people with weakened immune systems and the elderly may be more at risk to food poisoning and should consider this before eating shellfish.

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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