Shellfish Safety

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) works in close partnership with the shellfish sector to ensure healthy marine ecosystems so that consumers can enjoy safe seafood of the highest quality.

The SFPA is the competent authority for the regulation of the seafood sector including aquaculture, and oversees the implementation and compliance with food safety legislation. 

Live bivalve mollusc such as oysters feed by filtering food from the waters in which they grow; therefore they may accumulate harmful microorganisms or biotoxins in their flesh. Some of these can cause illness if consumed, especially in the case of oysters, which are frequently consumed raw. Oysters may only be placed on the market for direct human consumption if handled in an approved dispatch centre or depuration centre.

These food business operators are responsible for placing safe shellfish on the market through operating a rigorous food safety management system. This process is audited by the SFPA through random sampling and inspections of food safety management systems to ensure they are being complied with so that consumers can enjoy seafood of the highest quality.

The SFPA also carries out a monthly shellfish sampling programme in all active shellfish production areas with the results determining the classification of each area for the sale or consumption of shellfish. Three classifications (See Table 1) determine whether the harvested shellfish can be sold or supplied directly for human consumption. 

Table 1. Shellfish Classification based on E. coli monitoring

Category Microbiological Standard (MPN 100g-1 shellfish flesh) Treatment required
Class A <230 E.coli May go direct for human consumption
Class B <4,600 E.coli (90% compliance) Must be depurated, heat treated or relayed to meet class A requirements
Class C <46,000 E.coli Must be relayed for 2 months to meet class A or B requirements or may also be heat treated


For more information on Microbiological Monitoring of Bivalve Mollusc Production Areas see Guidance Documents and Classified Areas sections of this website

For more information on biotoxin monitoring and status see the Marine Institute Habs website and the Code of Practice on Biotoxin Monitoring

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