Health inspection of professional marine shellfish production areas

To safeguard shellfish consumer health, a series of measures was set up by the French Ministry for Agriculture and Food (MAAF). This policy is implemented by the Directorate General for Food (DGAL).

General principles of health classification of shellfish production areas

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Regulation (EC) No 854 /2004 lays down the requirements for classification of all shellfish production areas into three categories according to their microbiological quality (A, B and C). This classification is established based on the number of Escherichiacoli, an indicator of faecal contamination.

The Ministerial order of 6 November 2013 included an additional criterion for chemical contaminants and forbids the classification of areas that exceed the maximum levels of certain chemical contaminants listed in Regulation (EC) No 1881/2004: trace metals/elements (lead, cadmium, mercury) and organic contaminants (PAHs, PCBs, dioxins).

Three groups of shellfish are distinguished:

  • Group 1: gastropods, echinoderms and tunicates
  • Group 2: burrowing bivalves
  • Group 3: non-burrowing bivalves (Pectinidae (scallops) belong to this group)

A different classification can be established for the same area for each group of shellfish found there.

In 2014, there were 351 monitored and classified areas (A, B or C). Most of the shellfish production areas in France are classified B, which corresponds to acceptable microbiological quality. Discover the quality of shellfish production areas in France.

Public health surveys and classification

Public health surveys are used to assess the microbiological and chemical quality of an area for classification purposes. The survey includes an examination of the application, a visit to the site and sampling to assess the microbiological and chemical contaminants in the area.

The classification is established by the departmentalprefect, who is the competent authority for the microbiological inspections in the département via a prefectural order that applies to professional shellfish harvesting and not recreational shellfishing, based on Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 that applies to professional business operators.

Public health monitoring of shellfish production areas

The shellfish production areas are regularly assessed to ensure the quality of shellfish from those areas and the continuance of the quality classification. Due to their physiology (filter-feeders) and their life in the marine environment, shellfish can accumulate contaminants found in the environment. Therefore, the key to shellfish inspection for public health lies at the primary site of production, i.e. shellfish production areas.

The following contaminants are monitored:

  • Microbiological contaminants, via the REMI monitoring network,
  • Phycotoxins via the REPHY network,
  • Chemical contaminants via the ROCCH monitoring network.

The analyses are carried out on shellfish samples. In addition, algal counts carried out to detect potential toxin-producing algae are done on water samples in the REPHY network.

The monitoring of shellfish production areas is the responsibility of the government, to whom IFREMER provides support services.

In shellfish production areas, marine biotoxins are also placed under watch, in a programme distinct from the monitoring plan, to detect emerging non-notifiable phycotoxins.

The role of IFREMER in the inspection of shellfish production areas

IFREMER plays a major role in the implementation of this public health inspection on several levels.

Currently, IFREMER – through its Environment Resource Laboratories (LER) – operates monitoring networks:

  • REMI (Microbiological monitoring network),
  • REPHY (Phytoplankton and Phycotoxins observation and monitoring network),
  • ROCCH (Chemical contaminant monitoring network).

It also carries out health surveys in production areas for classification.

Since 2016, IFREMER has been working with ANSES on a ‘biotoxin watch’ of emerging marine biotoxins in shellfish. This programme aims to develop methods for the detection of microalgal toxins inventoried worldwide.

The microbiological monitoring of shellfish quality will soon by modified to include the screening of viral contaminants (noroviruses). Together with the DGAL, IFREMER contributes to the formulation of specifications for viral monitoring in shellfish, for public health purposes, through the National Reference Laboratory (NRL).