State Advisory Regarding Consumption of Mussels, Shellfish and some other seafood from the Southern California Coast.
OCEAN & BAY WATER CLOSURES, POSTINGS & ADVISORIES
As part of the County of Orange Health Care Agency (HCA), Environmental Health's Ocean Water Protection Program is responsible for protecting the public from exposure to ocean and bay waters that may be contaminated with sewage or may cause illness along Orange County's 42 miles of open ocean coastline, and 70 miles of harbor and bay frontage. Ocean and bay waters used for body-contact recreational activities such as swimming, surfing, shellfish collection and diving must meet specific bacteriological standards to be considered safe for such purposes.
Over the past 40 years, the Health Care Agency and two local sanitation agencies (the Orange County Sanitation District and the South Orange County Wastewater Authority) have been cooperatively testing the coastal waters in Orange County for bacteria that indicate the possible presence of disease-causing organisms. The sanitation agencies and HCA program staff participate in the weekly collection of water samples at approximately 150 ocean, bay, harbor and drainage locations throughout coastal Orange County.
Ocean Water Protection Program staff review the results of bacteriological water samples every day and issue ocean and bay water closures, postings and health advisories under the requirements stipulated by the California Health and Safety Code, and Title 17 of the California Code of Regulations. When the results of testing indicate that one or more of the Ocean Water-Contact Sports Standards have been exceeded, the public is notified (i.e., signs are posted at the beach, the hotline at 714/433-6400 and Web page at ocbeachinfo.com are updated), and the sampling frequency and locations may increase until the sample results meet established standards and/or the source of the problem is eliminated. In addition, the Ocean Water Protection Program staff respond on a 24-hour basis to investigate reports of sewage spills or other contamination incidents affecting Orange County's ocean and bay waters.
The Annual Mussel Quarantine in California is in effect from May 1 through October 31. Consumers can receive updated information by calling the California Department of Health Services "Biotoxin Information Line" at 1-800-553-4133. Sport harvesting of mussels for human consumption is not allowed along the entire California coastline during this period. All bays and inlets are included in the quarantine. The purpose of this quarantine is to protect the public from deadly poisons that may be present in bivalve mollusks, such as mussels, clams, oysters and scallops. Since 1927, California recorded 521 cases of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning, including 32 deaths.
Mussels are the most dangerous because they accumulate high levels of toxins more quickly than other mollusks and are commonly eaten without removing the digestive organs. All dark meat should be removed from clams, oysters and scallops before eating, since the poison may be concentrated in those areas. Health officials emphasize that toxic mussels cannot be distinguished from harmless ones. Moreover, cooking does not destroy the toxins, as they are heat resistant.
The California quarantine applies only to mussels collected locally by sports harvesters. All commercial shellfish harvesters in California must be certified by the State and are subject to strict testing requirements.
The safest guideline to follow is:
Do not eat mussels from California coastal waters collected by sports harvesters from May 1 through October 31.