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U.S. FDA reports 91 cases of norovirus linked to B.C. oysters

“It’s some farms in certain areas, not the entire B.C. industry.”
A number of Baynes Sound oyster sites are under a recall due to a norovirus outbreak. File photo

While some oysters from Baynes Sound have been recalled from shelves due to norovirus links, the executive director of the B.C. Shellfish Growers Association says this outbreak affects only a few licence holders.

The recall and harvesting closures are not a reflection of the safety of oysters in general.

“It’s some farms in certain areas, not the entire B.C. industry,” Nico Prins told the Record.

Nor is it all of Baynes Sound, he added.

Reports about the norovirus outbreak associated with certain oyster brands note they have originated in the south and central area of Baynes Sound.

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Prins responded that the operations have been isolated to a few southern locations.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, he said, has taken more of blanket approach with its advisories toward oysters from the region. The FDA’s website stated these originated in south and central Baynes Sound and were distributed to retailers in several states, including Washington, Oregon and California.

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and state and local partners, are investigating a multi-state outbreak of norovirus illnesses linked to raw oysters,” the FDA notice said.

The CDC said they had 91 cases of illness reported as of April 4, based on available information.

The Canadian government has issued recalls in recent weeks for a few companies with operations in the area due to norovirus outbreaks associated with eating raw oysters. These include certain Daily Fresh Shellfish, Taylor Shellfish Canada ULC brand, Pacific Rim Shellfish and Stellar Bay Shellfish, with the recalls coming between March 23 and 31.

“Some oyster harvest areas in B.C. that have been associated with illnesses in this outbreak have been closed as a part of the investigation,” the Public Health Agency of Canada stated on its website.

By the end of March, there had been 279 cases of norovirus and gastrointestinal illness tied to eating B.C. oysters this year, with most reported in this province. There were 15 cases in Ontario and one each in Alberta and Saskatchewan. People reported becoming sick starting in mid-January. No deaths have been reported.

READ MORE: 279 people infected in norovirus outbreak from B.C. oysters, public health agency says

For businesses closing, some have licences elsewhere and can continue those operations, but for those with only one or two harvest locations, the recall can be onerous, with reopening only happening once it is safe.

“In the event of a recall, certain procedures need to happen,” Prins said. “You do want to keep the public safe.”

He said millions of raw oysters are consumed every year in B.C. and around the world, harvested from hundreds of tenures. This case is limited to the specific tenures associated with the recalls and not the whole industry. Norovirus too, he added, does not survive long in a marine environment, so outbreaks are typically confined to the waters near a harvest site and get diluted quickly.

“It’s usually linked to a very specific geographic area,” he said.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is telling people not to eat, use, sell, or serve the recalled oysters. As well, CFIA recommends people not eat raw or undercooked oysters to reduce the risk of illness, follow proper food-handling practices and cook them to an internal temperature of 90C (194F) for a minimum of 90 seconds.

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