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State governments from Arkansas to Alaska  are advising consumers that FDA has pulled the plug on the importation of fresh and frozen shellfish from the Republic of Korea.

The import ban, which went into effect on May 1, 2012, covers all fresh and frozen oysters, clams, mussels and scallops, including frozen breaded shellfish products. Canned shellfish are not affected by the ban.

According to a Press Release from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, FDA’s new policy follows a comprehensive evaluation of the Korean Shellfish Sanitation Program, carried out in March of this year. The evaluation turned up “…ineffective management of land-based pollution sources that can impact shellfish growing areas, such as inadequate controls to prevent the discharge of human fecal waste from impacting fish farms and commercial fishing,” according to the Press Release. Also, FDA observed “…aquaculture vessels operating in and adjacent to shellfish growing areas and detected norovirus in shellfish growing areas.”

The Republic of Korea was one of only five countries that had shellfish sanitation agreements with FDA, and whose raw shellfish products were accepted for the US market. The four remaining countries are Canada, Chile, Mexico and New Zealand.

FDA has not released a statement on the change in status of Korean shellfish; however, the reevaluation was most likely prompted by a cluster of three cases of norovirus gastroenteritis in Washington state in the autumn of 2011, and a subsequent illness reported in Pennsylvania. All of the illnesses were linked to consumption of frozen oysters imported from Korea. FDA recovered norovirus from the oysters associated both with the Washington cases and with the case in Pennsylvania.

The illnesses, combined with the confirmation of norovirus in samples of the oysters, led to a series of three recalls, on November 4th, and November 18th of last year, and January 23, 2012.

What You Need To Know

  • Norovirus infection causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and some stomach cramping; most people recover within two to three days without medical treatment. People with norovirus infection should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and use good hand washing and other hygienic practices to prevent the spread of illness to others.
  • FDA considers all fresh and fresh frozen molluscan shellfish and all products subsequently derived from fresh and fresh frozen molluscan shellfish from the Republic of Korea to be adulterated.
  • Consumers should check the country-of-origin information typically included on the labels of fresh and fresh frozen shellfish packaging, and discard – or return to the place of purchase – any shellfish or shellfish product labeled as coming from Korea.
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