Southend’s environmental health team has averted a potential food poisoning outbreak by seizing over half a tonne of illegally harvested oysters with an estimated value of £7,000.
At 12pm on Tuesday 2 October Environmental Health Officers attended City Beach, Southend, as part of their routine observations on shellfish beds.
The initial officer observed that a group of oyster pickers was harvesting substantial quantities of the prized shellfish.
When they arrived, the officers found a group of six people collecting commercial amounts of oysters from the beach without the necessary paperwork.
Police were called to the incident and are continuing to investigate.
The environmental health officers seized 600kgs of oysters, the largest ever single seizure in Southend, with the equivalent of 200kg of them already of shucked (de-shelled) on the beach and in plastic containers.
Further gathered, but as yet un-bagged, live shellfish were found on the mud a further 100 kg and were left by the officers to redisperse in the tide.
The commercial harvesting of oysters is strictly regulated in order to protect public health and prevent the outbreak of potentially fatal viruses.
Cllr Mark Flewitt, cabinet member for public protection, welcomed the seizure.
He said: “Oysters collected from Southend’s beaches are not safe for human consumption without going through a lengthy purification process or being thoroughly cooked.
“This is why the commercial collection is tightly regulated, with a docketing system ensuring that oysters can be traced from their original source to their point of sale.
“When oysters are illegally harvested and sold on, none of these checks are in place and oysters carrying norovirus and other nasty illnesses can end up being sold on the black market with serious consequences for public health.
“What’s more, with the shellfish industry being such an important part of the borough’s economy, any illegal commercial activity undermines and undercuts our borough’s legitimate shellfish harvesters.
Any subsequent food poisoning outbreak could severely damage the local industry’s international reputation for quality.
“I’d like to thank our Environmental Health Officers and Essex Police for their swift and decisive action in preventing over half a tonne of unsafe shellfish from entering the food chain.”
The seized live oysters have been redispersed in the water, while the shucked oysters had to be destroyed.