ARCHIVED - Managing the risks of Vibrio parahaemolyticus in Raw Oysters

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July 23th, 2013

To: All Registered Shellfish Processing Establishments

Subject: Managing the risks of Vibrio parahaemolyticus in Raw Oysters

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is reminding operators of federally registered bivalve molluscan shellfish processing establishments of their responsibility to control all food safety hazards through the implementation of their Quality Management Program (QMP) plans particularly as they relate to Vibrio parahaemolyticus (Vp).

Vp is a bacterium that naturally inhabits coastal waters of Canada and the United States. It can be found in higher concentrations during summer as water temperatures rise, and can cause gastrointestinal illness in humans. Vp can be present in any shellfish growing area regardless of the classification established by the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program.

Vp is present in Pacific and Atlantic Canadian waters during warmer months, usually from June until September, but has been detected in the Pacific in May and October.  Vp levels in shellfish can increase rapidly if appropriate time/temperature controls are not implemented following harvest, thus increasing the risk of Vp illness. It is important that harvesters, growers and processors are aware of the potential risks with Vp and implement appropriate controls during the risk period e.g. May - October. Registered establishments should review their QMP plans to ensure the appropriate measures are in place, such as:

  • Ensuring suppliers, such as harvesters and aquaculturists  comply with Schedule III and V of the Fish Inspection Regulations, and cool shellfish properly to prevent exposure to elevated temperatures during harvesting and transport;
  • Having procedures to verify that shellfish were protected from time/temperature abuse prior to delivery at the establishment and include a description of the corrective actions that will be taken if the shellfish were improperly handled, stored or transported prior to arrival at the establishment;
  • Reviewing the QMP plan to ensure that time/temperature controls applied when shellfish are handled, stored or processed at the establishment are being followed and that they are effective to prevent growth of bacteria; and
  • Occasional Vp testing to verify that control measures are effective and producing product which is compliant with the Vp end-product guideline (referenced below).

Note: For federally registered shellfish processing establishments in British Columbia (B.C.), the existing Risk Reduction Strategy and Control Program in B.C. must still be applied. Please reference the CFIA Vibrio parahaemolyticus Communique for Industry May 2013.

The CFIA will continue to assess QMP plans to ensure that appropriate controls are implemented where necessary. The CFIA will initiate sampling to confirm compliance to Health Canada’s microbiological guideline (found in the Fish Products Standards and Methods Manual, Appendix 2 – Bacteriological Guidelines for Fish and Fish Products. Throughout the Vp risk period (May – October), the CFIA will focus this verification testing on oysters intended for raw consumption.  Any samples found to exceed the guideline will not be permitted for sale and will trigger a follow up investigation.

Any questions or comments regarding the above can be directed to your local CFIA Fish Inspection office.


Terence McRae
Fish, Seafood and Production Division
Agrifood, Meat and Seafood Safety Directorate
Canadian Food Inspection Agency

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