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Recall: Shellfish Contaminated with Bacteria

Wed, 08/07/2013 - 12:23pm
STEPHEN SINGER,Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Warm water in Long Island Sound is being blamed for naturally occurring bacteria that sickened at least five people who ate oysters, clams and other shellfish from shallow areas near Norwalk and Westport.

State agriculture officials on Monday announced a first-ever recall of shellfish and the shutting of most shellfish harvest locations due to naturally occurring bacteria. The agency has acted before due to pollution from storm water runoff or similar reasons.

David Carey, director of the agency's Bureau of Aquaculture, said the extreme heat in mid-July is partly to blame for the warm water in shallow areas of the Sound. The state shut shellfish harvesting areas in Norwalk and Westport until September, when the water is expected to cool down.

Areas outside the nearby Long Island Sound islands that are deeper than 20 feet remain open because water at that depth is cooler than in shallow areas. Shellfish beds in southeastern Connecticut also are not affected because the Long Island Sound there is cooler due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and potentially swifter current.

Shellfish affected by the recall include hard clams and oysters harvested between July 3 and Friday. If ingested, the bacteria known as Vibrio parahaemolyticus can cause acute stomach illness.

Clamming by residents is banned, restaurants are removing the shellfish from their kitchens and supermarkets are taking the food off their shelves.

"I'll have to stay with lobster, I guess," Norwalk Mayor Richard A. Moccia said.

Health consequences were kept to a minimum, he said, though the monthlong shutdown of harvesting areas will hurt the two large shellfish companies that harvest oysters and clams.

Hillard Bloom Shellfish Inc. and Norm Bloom and Son did not immediately return calls seeking information on Monday.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation imposed an emergency closing of shellfish beds in Oyster Bay Harbor and Cold Spring Harbor effective June 29 as a precaution following reports of shellfish illnesses from consumption of oysters and hard clams, a spokeswoman said in an email. It did not recall shellfish from the area.

Some of the illnesses were confirmed as Vibrio parahaemolyticus.

Last year, federal officials warned against eating raw or partially cooked shellfish harvested from Oyster Bay Harbor because they were linked to the Vibrio bacteria. Oyster Bay is across Long Island Sound from Norwalk. New York officials closed the site to shellfish harvesters at the time.

Connecticut closed shellfish beds in July 2012 as a precaution, Carey said. One person was sickened by the bacteria, which doesn't qualify as an outbreak. The five confirmed cases and a possible sixth rise to the level of an outbreak, Department of Agriculture spokesman George Krivda said.

The state this winter will set up a monitoring program that will be put into effect next year, measuring Vibrio levels in shellfish and determining if areas need to be closed, Carey said.

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