FREDERICTON (GNB) – New Brunswickers are being advised to properly handle and cook shellfish to avoid food-borne illness.

“Residents need to be vigilant when harvesting and consuming shellfish,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health. “Shellfish are nutritious and very popular in New Brunswick; however, not taking the necessary precautions can lead to health risks. We are reminding New Brunswickers to keep their health and safety in mind when they prepare and eat shellfish.”

The precautionary warning from the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health comes as the province enters the time of year when New Brunswickers are purchasing or harvesting shellfish.

It is important to prepare and cook only shellfish that has been harvested in an approved zone; that has been properly stored and that is alive. Not doing so can result in food-borne illness including diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps and, with some toxins, amnesia, slurred speech, loss of muscle co-ordination, and tingling sensation on the skin.

The risk of food-borne illness may be reduced by taking precautions including:

  • Ensure the shellfish is harvested in an approved open area. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans provides a shellfish harvesting map online, or you can contact your nearest Fisheries and Oceans Canada office for shellfish harvesting openings and closures.
  • When in doubt throw it out - shellfish should be alive with the shells closed. If the shells are open, tap the shellfish - if the shell closes, the shellfish is still alive.
  • Throw out any shellfish with the shells remaining open or any which may have unusual smells.
  • Refrigerate immediately after purchasing or harvesting.
  • Use an ice pack and cooler to keep shellfish cold (less than 4°C) until they can be refrigerated.
  • Store live shellfish in an opened bucket or container, and keep chilled (0 to 4C). If storing in an open container, cover the shells with a damp cloth for no more than a few days. Shellfish should not be stored in fresh water.
  • Store shucked (opened) shellfish in a closed container and keep chilled ( 0 to 4C) for no more than two days.
  • Keep raw shellfish separate from other foods.
  • Ensure shellfish is alive prior to cooking. Consuming raw shellfish increases the risk of illness.
  • Properly cook shellfish. If boiling, boil until the shells open, and then boil for an additional three to five minutes. Boil shucked shellfish for at least three minutes or until the edges curl. Steam for four to nine minutes and discard those that did not open. Fry for at least three minutes at 190 degrees C (375 F). Bake for at least 10 minutes at 230 degrees C (450 F).

As usual for food-borne infections, pregnant women, children, seniors, people with reduced stomach acidity and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of becoming ill.

If individuals feel ill after eating shellfish, they should consult a physician immediately and call their local public health office to report the illness.