Often among the most expensively priced items in restaurants, shellfish, such as oysters, lobster, and mussels, are considered some of the finest culinary delicacies. However, they are also some the trickiest foods to prepare safely, and can carry harmful bacteria, viruses and biotoxins, which cause a number of illnesses, while shellfish allergies are also common.
When dealing with shellfish, there are food safety risks at every stage of the food supply chain. Whether you’re pursuing a career in quality assurance and control, or working in a food serving environment, taking care when dealing with shellfish is essential.
Want to know more about the potential risks of shellfish preparation that food safety students need to watch out for? Read on to find out.
Food Quality Control Risks in Shellfish, Explained
Because shellfish feeds on microscopic organisms, harmful bacteria and viruses from the water around them often build up in their muscle tissue. In food science and microbiology courses, students pursuing their food handling and food safety diploma will learn how these contaminants can carry a risk of extreme food poisoning if shellfish is not prepared properly.
Some types of shellfish, such as oysters, also carry norovirus, commonly known as the winter vomiting bug. Oysters also serve as a carrier for Vibrio parahaemolyticus (Vp), a pathogen which causes a severe form of food poisoning called vibriosis, and can occasionally lead to more serious blood infections.
Food Handling Risks Associated with Shellfish Allergies
In addition to food poisoning risks, shellfish is also a common food allergen. Shellfish allergies vary in their severity, and often people who are allergic to crustaceans (shrimp, lobsters etc.) can tolerate mollusks like oysters and clams. Common symptoms include vomiting, trouble swallowing, and swelling of the lips and tongue.
If you’re preparing food for someone with a shellfish allergy, you’ll need to take a number of precautions. Labels need to be checked carefully to ensure that no shellfish ingredients are present in food, and you must also be mindful of cross-contamination in a kitchen environment. Vapor can carry small particles of shellfish protein, so in extreme cases, even leaving a dish in the same room where shellfish is being prepared can put a customer at risk of an allergic reaction.
Food Handling Tips for Students Hoping to Work with Shellfish Suppliers
Professionals working with shellfish need to be aware of safety at every stage of the food quality control process. The health of shellfish begins to deteriorate as soon as they leave the water, so ensuring it is refrigerated immediately after being caught is vital to making sure it is fresh and free of contaminants.
Quality control specialists also need to be mindful of the risks associated with the environments they choose to source shellfish from. Fisheries and Oceans Canada routinely analyzes harvest areas, and will often ban shellfish harvesting in areas where toxins in the waters exceed safety standards.
Food Safety Precautions for Preparing and Handling Shellfish
Preparing, cooking, and handling shellfish safely can be extremely complicated. Even the smallest mistake can lead to contamination, and leave customers at serious risk of illness. Each type of shellfish has its own unique preparation guidelines, which food services staff needs to be aware of.
For instance, mussels and clams need to be stored on ice, cleaned thoroughly, and soaked in cold water prior to cooking, while all shellfish should be cooked thoroughly before eating, there are some types that are typically served raw (like oysters). It’s important to note that raw and cooked shellfish must always be stored separately in order to avoid cross contamination.
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