Analytical Services news

A new test has been developed to improve shellfish aquaculture food safety.
3 December 2014

Testing innovation delivers better seafood safety

The most serious algal toxin threat to New Zealand shellfish can now be detected much faster, thanks to a new test method that reduces turnaround time for results from days to hours.

The new test for paralytic shellfish toxin (PST) was developed collaboratively by scientists at Cawthron and the UK's Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) to improve shellfish aquaculture food safety. It can be used on a variety of commercial shellfish species and is quicker, simpler, and more sensitive than the current method.

"Faster turnaround of results means products can be certified faster and get to market sooner, which is crucial for the seafood export sector," says Cawthron Analytical Chemist, Dr Tim Harwood.

PSTs pose a serious human health risk and can lead to prolonged harvest closures and financial loss to industry.

"Of the four shellfish poisoning syndromes caused by harmful algae this is the most serious, so any improvements we can make in this area are good."

The innovation has been well received by industry.

Marlborough Shellfish Quality Programme Executive Officer, Colin Johnston, says Cawthron's focus on continuous improvement of test methodologies is hugely important for the shellfish aquaculture industry.

"This global expertise means New Zealand shellfish safety leads the world in ensuring a supremely safe product; allowing our farmers to concentrate on doing what they do best - growing the world's best shellfish."

Apex Marine Farms owner Bruce Hearn says his Marlborough Sounds’ oyster farm has been affected by seasonal PST algal blooms for past few years.

“This new test will give greater consumer protection and certainty as well as enabling us to remain open for our twice weekly harvests when it is appropriate to do so. The new testing regime can’t come soon enough for me.”

Cawthron hopes to begin using the test for routine regulatory testing in 2015, following publication of results in a peer-reviewed journal and final approval by the Ministry for Primary Industries.