How to make sure shellfish and fish are safe to eat

There are some health risks around fishing and collecting your own shellfish. We've got food safety tips to help you.

Food safety risks around fishing and collecting your own 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. We've got advice on making them safe to eat.

Histamine poisoning from fish and how to make them safe to eat

Collect shellfish from safe areas and cook them properly

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

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, this 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 them properly (and collect from a safe area).

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

Download a 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 make sure you handle, store, and cook seafood properly.

Find out how to 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. We've got:

  • information on symptoms
  • advice on how to keep them safe to eat
  • a list of the fish that can be harmful.

Symptoms of histamine poisoning from fish

The most common symptoms of the 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.

How to make fish safe from histamine

Check our list of fish that carry the risk. 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.

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.

Advice for trout fishing near 1080 drops

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

Based on MPI's latest 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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