Live shellfish can only be harvested from production areas which meet strict classification requirements for human consumption, as set out under European and Irish Food laws. The SFPA, in collaboration with the shellfish industry, conducts regular shellfish sampling in all production areas, monitoring the levels of bacterial contamination of shellfish to determine the risk and classification status. Each production area is designated a rating that determines the conditions, if any, which need to be observed before shellfish can be sold for human consumption (see notes for more information).
Across Ireland, nine production areas received ‘upgrades’ during the 2022 review of classifications, one production area received a shift in Seasonal A classification, twelve production areas received ‘downgrades’, one production area was de-classified for mussels, two production areas were declared as dormant, and two production areas received additional classifications during the 2022 annual review of classifications.**
Paschal Hayes, Executive Chairperson of the SFPA said that Ireland’s shellfish monitoring programme was important for both consumers and commercial producers.
“One of the principal remits of the SFPA is to ensure that Irish and international consumers can be assured of the quality and safety of fish and seafood harvested here, and that we have sustainable stocks for generations to come. Shellfish production is an important industry in many coastal communities around Ireland and it is essential that the highest standards of food safety are maintained at all times. The SFPA works in collaboration with industry and other state agencies to ensure that production areas are of the highest possible standard and meet rigorous assessment criteria to ensure that the safety and quality of the shellfish placed on the market is not compromised in any manner. This work is an important pillar in both preserving and further enhancing Ireland’s global reputation for quality, safe and delicious seafood. It is incumbent upon all working in the industry to remain vigilant to any risks which have the potential to impact our seafood production areas and that we adopt a collective approach throughout with a focus on quality and sustainable seafood.”
Sinéad Keaveney, Team Leader, Shellfish Microbiology, Marine Institute said:
“The publication of the classification list is the annual culmination of the ongoing partnership between the Marine Institute and SFPA in the microbiological monitoring of shellfish production areas in Ireland. As the National Reference Laboratory for monitoring E. coli contamination in bivalve shellfish, the Marine Institute oversees the national E. coli testing programme ensuring high quality test results produced by the laboratories. This contributes significantly to the assessment of the risk of microbiological contamination in shellfish production areas and the overall classification status of individual production areas.”
The Molluscan Shellfish Safety Programme, which included a wide range of stakeholders in Ireland’s LBM Industry, allows for a balanced and robust shellfish monitoring programme in Ireland. A key component is the National Microbiological Monitoring and Classification Programme which is a requirement of European food law. In Ireland, the SFPA is the Competent Authority for the classification of shellfish areas as part of its statutory remit promoting compliance with sea-fisheries legislation and ensuring seafood safety.
The SFPA carries out an annual review of all shellfish classifications utilising the previous three-year dataset of microbiological results for classifications. Escherichia coli (E.coli) is used as a proxy or faecal indicator; E.coli levels in shellfish samples are used to determine the classification status of production sites and determines the required harvesting protocols. During the period January 2019 to January 2022, approximately 4,788 microbiological E.coli samples were taken by the SFPA and reviewed.
In addition to the 2022/23 draft review of classified bivalve mollusc production areas in Ireland, a complete list of the E.coli results for the review period were forwarded to the Implementation Team involving the SFPA, Food Safety Authority of Ireland, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Inland Fisheries Ireland and Industry. This gives the opportunity for industry to submit cases to potentially waive E.coli result which can clearly be shown to be directly caused by exceptional or once off events. These matters are raised at the annual Implementation meeting. The criteria are outlined and detailed in the Code of Practice for the classification of production areas on the SFPA website.
Table 1. Shellfish Classification based on E. coli monitoring
||Standard per 100g of LBM flesh and intravalvular fluid
||80% of samples ≤ 230 E. coli/100g; all samples must be less than 700 E. coli/100g)
||None – molluscs can be harvested for direct human consumption
||LBMs must not exceed the limits of a five-tube, three dilution Most Probable Number (MPN) test of 4,600 E. coli per 100 g of flesh and intravalvular liquid.2
||Purification, relaying in class A area or cooking by an approved method
||LBMs must not exceed the limits of a five-tube, three dilution MPN test of 46,000 E. coli per 100 g of flesh and intravalvular liquid.
||Relaying for a long period or cooking by an approved method
||>46,000 E. coli per 100g of flesh and intravalvular fluid3
||Harvesting not permitted
Notes: 1 Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/627 Title V Art 53, Regulation (EC) No 853/2004, to Regulation (EC) 2073/2005.
2 Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/627 Title V Art 54, the competent authority may continue to classify as being of Class B areas for which the relevant limits of 4,600 E. coli per 100g are not exceeded in 90% of samples.
3This level is by default as it is above the highest limit set in legislation.
Source: Press Release