Shellfish Safety

Around here we love our seafood, so we make sure you know when it’s safe to harvest and eat shellfish like clams, oysters, and mussels. 

  • Check the Washington Shellfish Safety Map or call the Biotoxin Hotline (1-800-562-5632) to get the most up-to-date shellfish closure information before you harvest.
  • Cooking does not destroy biotoxins that can be present in shellfish. It’s not safe to eat shellfish harvested in areas that are closed due to biotoxins.
  • Shellfish sold in restaurants or stores is safe to eat because it is tested before it’s sold.


How do I know if it’s safe to harvest shellfish?

We work with the Washington State Department of Health to monitor conditions and alert you when it’s not safe to collect shellfish to eat. We temporarily close areas until conditions improve. Some of the reasons for shellfish closures are:

  • Shellfish contain high levels of biotoxins that could make you very sick or lead to paralysis and death.
  • Water quality is poor, and bacteria or other pollutants in the water are a risk to your health.
  • We’ve received reports of illnesses like norovirus or vibriosis that are linked to shellfish consumption.

Always check before you dig! The best way to check if it’s safe to collect shellfish from local beaches is to visit the Washington Shellfish Safety Map or call the Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632.

You can also look for closure signs at public beaches. When it’s not safe to harvest, we post signs to let you know.


What kinds of illness can I get from shellfish?

Marine biotoxins

Marine biotoxins are poisons produced by some types of algae that are naturally present in local marine waters. Shellfish eat the algae, and even though the biotoxins don’t affect them, the toxins concentrate in their tissues. When you eat shellfish with high levels of toxins, you can become seriously ill, be paralyzed, or die. Different kinds of biotoxins can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning, Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning, or Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning.

You can’t see the algae that produce biotoxins. The only way to know if they are present is by testing. That’s why we test shellfish frequently and report new information on the Washington Shellfish Safety Map.

Learn more about the types of marine biotoxins and the signs and symptoms of illness.

Norovirus

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus. People most often associate it with “food poisoning” or “stomach flu” because it is often passed from person to person or from food or objects that are contaminated with the virus. You can also get norovirus by eating raw or undercooked shellfish if you harvest it from waters that are contaminated by untreated human sewage.

Learn more about norovirus in shellfish.

Vibriosis

Vibriosis is a disease caused by a small bacteria that can be found in fish and shellfish that live in saltwater. The bacteria grow well in warm conditions. When they are present in large numbers, they can make you sick. Most cases of vibriosis occur from eating raw or undercooked fish or shellfish.

Learn more about vibriosis in shellfish.

How do I prevent shellfish-related illness?

Follow the 3 C’s:

  • Check – Before you head to the beach, check to make sure that conditions are safe and the area is open for harvest. Only harvest shellfish if it’s safe to do so.
  • Chill – Gather shellfish while the tide is going out so that they don’t sit in the sun for a long time. Put them on ice right away to keep them cool, and put them in the refrigerator as soon as possible.
  • Cook – Cook your shellfish at 145 degrees F for at least 15 seconds to kill harmful bacteria. Cooking does not destroy biotoxins! It is not safe to eat shellfish, raw or cooked, that have been collected from an area that is closed due to biotoxins.

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