How to make sure shellfish and fish are safe to eat

There are some health risks around fishing and collecting your own shellfish. These food safety tips will help you.

Food safety risks from fishing and collecting shellfish

Shellfish are a high-risk food because they can live in contaminated water. This means they can store bacteria and viruses, biotoxins, and pollution, which can make us sick. Certain types of fish can also be toxic if they're not chilled properly after you catch them.

Collect shellfish from safe areas. Cook properly

We issue public health warnings for areas of the country when our testing shows shellfish contain biotoxins.

Check the latest shellfish biotoxin alerts (warnings)

Find out more about toxic shellfish poisoning

Cooking shellfish doesn't always make them safe to eat

Another health risk is that people often like to eat shellfish raw or lightly cooked. However, lightly cooking shellfish might not kill viruses and bacteria that they're storing. And no amount of cooking will destroy any biotoxins or other harmful chemicals that they might be storing. Make sure to cook shellfish properly and collect them from a safe area.

Take extra care if you have low immunity

If you have low immunity, or are immune-compromised, you should not eat raw or under-cooked shellfish.

Food safety advice for people with low immunity

Low immunity food safety guide [PDF, 719 KB]

Reducing the health risks of eating fish

Fish taken from water containing sewage can carry bacteria and viruses that can make you sick when you eat them. Only collect fish and shellfish from areas where the water isn't polluted.

Make sure you handle, store, and cook seafood properly.

Clean, Cook, Chill

Mercury in fish

Certain types of fish can contain mercury.

Find out about mercury in fish

Histamine poisoning from fish

When not chilled properly, some types of fish can produce histamine. This can be toxic to people.

Symptoms of histamine poisoning from fish

The most common symptoms of histamine poisoning are:

  • tingling and burning around the mouth
  • facial flushing
  • diarrhoea.

Other symptoms can include a skin rash, nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, dizziness, palpitations, headaches, and possibly respiratory distress.

Symptoms can last for up to 12 hours but there are no long-term effects.

 

List of fish that can produce the histamine

These types of fish may form histamine, and need to be chilled well:

  • kahawai
  • mackerel
  • tuna
  • kingfish
  • marlin
  • bonito
  • sardines
  • pilchards
  • anchovies
  • herring
  • trevally.

How to make fish safe from histamine

To make them safe to eat, the best approach is to chill them or put them on ice. Keep them chilled until you use them. Do this as soon as you can after you catch the fish.

Advice for trout fishing near 1080 drops

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is working with Fish & Game New Zealand about concerns that people eating trout might risk exposure to 1080 if the trout have eaten 1080 baits after a DOC aerial pest control operation.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has done a risk assessment. Our advice is for anglers to wait 7 days after a 1080 baiting operation to minimise any food safety concerns.

Who to contact

If you have questions about shellfish and fish food safety, email info@mpi.govt.nz

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