FDA Issues Warning Over Contaminated Korean Shellfish
June 18, 2012

FDA Issues Warning Over Contaminated Korean Shellfish

American regulators are urging supermarkets and other retailers to remove South Korean oysters, clams, mussels and scallops from store shelves due to concerns that they may have been infected with norovirus.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the warning late last week, noting that the products could have been exposed to human fecal matter and responsible for the illnesses of at least four people in the US since October, according to Reuters reports.

"The regulatory warning spans the range of fresh, canned and processed seafood products that contain the seafood types known as molluscan shellfish that entered the United States before May 1, when the FDA first removed them from an interstate list of certified shellfish shippers," the news agency reported on June 14, adding that officials at the agency were reportedly "in talks with South Korean officials about the problem that involves polluted fishing waters where the seafood was harvested."

In a Thursday press release, the FDA said that many food companies had already removed the products from the market, but that many others had yet to do so, despite warnings from the agency that the Korean Shellfish Sanitation Program (KSSP) no longer meets US shellfish safety standards.

"The FDA´s evaluation found significant deficiencies with the KSSP including inadequate sanitary controls, ineffective management of land-based pollution sources and detection of norovirus in shellfish growing areas," they said. "The deficiencies in the KSSP prompted the FDA to remove all Korean certified shippers of molluscan shellfish from the ICSSL on May 1, 2012."

"Although Korean molluscan shellfish represent only a small fraction of the oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops sold in the United States, the removal of Korean shellfish shippers from the ICSSL is an important step in stopping the importation of molluscan shellfish harvested from polluted waters," they added.

They are advising customers who recently purchased molluscan shellfish to contact the store where the products were purchased if they feared those goods may have originated from South Korea. The FDA also said that consumers could check the labels of packaged seafood to find whether or not it was Korean in origin, or call the manufacturer should that information be unclear or unavailable. They are also warning all customers to dispose of all Korean molluscan shellfish and any product made with or containing said shellfish.

"These actions only affect molluscan shellfish harvested from Korean waters. They do not affect the receipt of fresh and frozen molluscan shellfish by distributors, retailers, and food service operators from any of the other shellfish shippers listed in the ICSSL2," the FDA press release said. "Further, these actions do not affect the importation of canned and other processed product made with molluscan shellfish harvested from non-Korean waters. The FDA is in ongoing discussions with Korean authorities to resolve the issue."

"Although the heat treatment that canned products undergo should eliminate the risk of norovirus, the contents of the cans of molluscan shellfish from Korea are still considered not fit for human food because the products were harvested from waters subject to human fecal contamination," they added. "For fresh, frozen, or products processed by methods other than canning, the products should also be considered food not for human consumption and may also carry a risk of norovirus."

The FDA said that norovirus can cause gastroenteritis, which includes such symptoms as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, low-grade fever, chills, head and muscle aches, and fatigue. Those symptoms usually surface within a 12 to 48 hour period after exposure, and tend to last one to three days, they added.

Three of the four cases linked to these products were reported in October 2011, and the fourth was in December 2011. To date, there have been no reported cases of norovirus infection in 2012.