National | Cooking

Food safety warning to 'thoroughly cook mussels'

'Don’t eat raw or lightly cooked mussels', that's the warning from New Zealand Food Safety, after an increase in cases of a bacteria associated with food poisoning around the country this summer.

Instead, the food safety body is reminding consumers to "cook mussels until steaming hot" to avoid contracting vibrio parahaemolyticus. 

"Since mid-November 2021, there have been 31 confirmed cases with 10 people hospitalised with the illness from around the country, and evidence suggests a change in water temperature and conditions may make live mussels more susceptible to the bacteria," Vince Arbuckle, New Zealand Food Safety deputy director-general, said earlier this week.

Arbuckle says they have made moves to spread the word to consumers through supermarkets.

"As mussel harvesting is a favourite summer pastime of many New Zealanders and are sold live and raw in many New Zealand supermarkets, we advise consumers to cook mussels thoroughly before consumption to avoid getting sick.

"We have been working with the major supermarket chains to ensure that point-of-sale signage to cook mussels is available for consumers."

Arbuckle cautions that certain groups are especially vulnerable to severe illness.

"People with low immunity, pregnant, or elderly should always avoid eating raw or undercooked shellfish as the illness can be more severe."

New Zealand Food Safety recommends consumers follow the following simple food safety guidance:

Keep hands and utensils clean

Always wash your hands and kitchen utensils after handling raw seafood, and before using other utensils or handling other foods. This will prevent the bacteria from spreading in your kitchen.

Cook mussels thoroughly

Cook mussels until steaming hot. Don’t eat them raw or lightly cooked as this won’t kill the vibrio bacteria. One good way to know mussels are fully cooked is that their shells pop open when boiled or steamed, and the mussel inside is firm to the touch.

Chill mussels immediately

Refrigerate shellfish as soon as possible after harvesting from the beach or purchasing from the supermarket. You can use a chilly bin filled with ice or frozen ice packs to transport live shellfish in your car. Once you get home, you should store mussels in a bowl covered with a cold, wet towel on the bottom shelf in your refrigerator.

What to do if you get sick

If you get sick after eating shellfish, phone Healthline for advice on 0800 61 11 16 or seek medical attention immediately. If possible, store and refrigerate any leftover shellfish for testing.

Vibrio bacteria symptoms may include watery or bloody diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, and/or headache.