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Shellfish Toxins in Food a Toxicological Review and Risk Assessment

By Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Nutrition Reference Publication

Electronic reproduction.

Summary: Microscopic unicellular algae (mostly 20 to 200 mm size) form an important component of the plankton diet of shellfish such as mussels, oysters and scallops. Under favourable environmental conditions of light, temperature, salinity, water column stability and nutrients, algal populations of only a few cells can quickly multiply into dense blooms containing millions of cells per litre which can discolour the seawater. Of the estimated 2000 living dinoflagellate species, about 30 species produce toxins that can cause human illness from shellfish or fish poisoning. When humans eat seafood contaminated by these microalgae, they may suffer a variety of gastro-intestinal and neurological illnesses. The most common shellfish poisonings are paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) which in extreme cases can lead to death through respiratory paralysis, diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) which causes severe gastro-intestinal problems and can promote stomach tumours, neurotoxic shellfish poisoning (NSP) which causes respiratory distress, and amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP) which can lead to permanent brain damage (short-term memory loss).


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