Irish Agency Raises Concerns Over Norovirus Risk in Shellfish

by Ella

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) in Ireland has issued a notice aimed at reducing the incidence of contaminated oysters in the market and minimizing norovirus-related illnesses.

The SFPA’s Food Safety Information Notice outlines strategies to manage norovirus risks associated with oysters, coinciding with the agency’s annual food safety workshop alongside the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) in late February. This year’s workshop focused on norovirus and food incidents.


Norovirus, a highly contagious virus transmitted through contaminated food or water, poses a significant threat. Bivalve mollusks like oysters are particularly prone to accumulating and concentrating norovirus, especially as they are often consumed raw or lightly cooked. Despite this risk, there is currently no regulatory limit for norovirus in shellfish.


Recent incidents across Europe have underscored the seriousness of the issue. In Spain, Finland, Italy, and Belgium, cases of norovirus linked to oysters have been reported. Additionally, concerns have been raised regarding other pathogens, including rotavirus in Irish oysters and E. coli in Irish mussels.


The SFPA emphasizes the importance of businesses involved in oyster production understanding and mitigating these risks, particularly during the high-risk winter period. Implementing appropriate management actions, consistent with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) principles, is essential to ensure food safety.


To assist with risk mitigation, guidance has been developed by the SFPA, FSAI, the Marine Institute, and Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM). Factors such as cold weather, low water temperatures, and high rainfall can exacerbate the risk of norovirus contamination in shellfish, often due to sewage system overflows.

The SFPA, FSAI, and the Marine Institute have also collaborated on a workshop aimed at industry stakeholders, addressing sanitary surveys for shellfish harvesting areas and Ireland’s implementation of related legislation. Key topics included data management, shellfish classification, and updates on Ireland’s sanitary survey program. Michelle Price-Howard from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries, Aquaculture and Science (CEFAS) served as the keynote speaker, providing valuable insights into the issue.



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