Mussel harvesting has ceased in Shetland and the product withdrawn from the market following reports that around 70 people had reported symptoms of food poisoning after eating them in south-east England.
According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) an unprecedented level of naturally occurring toxins, which could cause acute food poisoning, had been detected in the shellfish.
These cases, most of which happened around a fortnight ago, were apparently linked to mussels from Shetland. Following the harvest of these mussels the FSA recorded the high levels of toxins during a weekly monitoring programme.
The FSA state that the toxins are produced by marine phytoplankton and levels are typically higher in summer, but harvesting waters are closed if the legal limit is exceeded.
SIC environmental health manager Maggie Sandison said 11 harvesting areas in waters to the north and west of the isles have been closed and businesses operating in the remaining nine areas had ceased harvesting.
Mrs Sandison said it had been an unusual year, so they would like to compare it with previous years and see whether the existing approaches and risk assessments that the businesses had are still appropriate.
Seafood Shetland chief executive Ruth Henderson said the recent warmer temperatures had led to an unprecedented level and increase of algal blooms. Customers could be assured that isles mussel farmers would take every precaution necessary to protect the excellent reputation that their product had attained in the marketplace.
The FSA said mussels had been supplied to a number of restaurants, including some in London, all of which notified the relevant authorities when the cases of illness were identified.
Shetland Times reader Dorothy Harcus suggested that people should follow the habits used in former times, when isles folk would refrain from eating mussels at certain times of year.
“I feel ever so sorry for the poor food-poisoned Londoners,” she said. “[But] if they had ben lucky enough to come from north of the Galt Buoy they would have known not to eat shellfish when there’s no ‘R’ in the month!”