Safety Warnings for Fish & Crab Toxins from Select California Counties

The California Department of Public Health has issued a health advisory against eating small fish–like anchovies and sardine– because they normally are not cleaned before consumption. Unacceptable levels of domoic acids have been found in similar types of fish, such as muscle shells. Because these small fish are rarely gutted, the CDPH included them in the group that also includes mussels, clams and whole scallops. The previous warning was issued on April 4. The public health agency also stressed that these warnings are limited to the Monterey and Santa Cruz County area.

The CDPH also emphasized that the warnings do not extend to seafood products caught by legal commercial fishing businesses as these fishing operations are subject to regular comprehensive testing of their harvest. The department continues to monitor these specific water regions around Monterey and Santa Cruz County for domoic acid levels among muscle fish, but the certified harvesters are still acceptable sources for the smaller varieties of seafood. Novice recreational fishermen or anglers should not consume anything caught that is untested. The toxic acid forms naturally in phytoplankton and manifests through the shellfish food chain.

According to the Food Safety News, symptoms of domoic acid food poisoning can appear within 30 minutes, but there is no specific timeline. Generally, symptoms should arise within a 24-hour period. Problems may depend on the concentration of the poison and the amount consumed, but the condition can be very serious. The most severe cases can result in death, but intermediate cases usually include abdominal and digestive problems, along with headaches and dizziness.

Anyone who has eaten any seafood that possibly contains concentrated domoic acid levels should seek professional medical attention quickly. The California Department of Public Health encourages everyone to contact them with information that may help reduce the number of illnesses associated with this potentially dangerous situation. Although the professional medical facilities are good at reporting threatening public health problems, individuals also get sick and do not seek treatment. For a variety of reasons, the health agency would like to hear from the public when any case of food poisoning occurs because of the potential impact on overall public health.