UK National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for bacteriological contamination of bivalve molluscs

Providing information and guidance on public health related monitoring of bivalve shellfish

In the UK, the competent authorities responsible for the implementation of food law are the Food Standards Agency (FSA; responsible for England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS). The FSA and FSS, in turn, have designated the Cefas Weymouth laboratory as the UK National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for bacteriological contamination of bivalve molluscs.

Faecal contamination of bivalve mollusc growing waters presents a risk of contamination with human pathogens (including bacteria) resulting in foodborne illness. In UK law an end product standard for Salmonella spp. in bivalve shellfish protects the consumer. Meanwhile Escherichia coli (E. coli) is used as an indicator of faecal contamination, and included in both end product standards and rules for classification of bivalve mollusc growing waters.

NRL Responsibilities

Articles 100-101 of Retained Regulation (EU) 2017/625, as amended by The Official Controls for Animals, Feed and Food, Plant Health etc. (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, stipulate that UK NRLs will:

  • cooperate internationally in their area of competence;
  • coordinate the activities of official laboratories responsible for the analysis of samples; 
  • where appropriate, organise comparative tests between the official laboratories and ensure an appropriate follow-up of such comparative testing;
  • ensure the dissemination of any information required by the competent authority;
  • provide scientific and technical assistance to the competent authority;
  • where necessary, conduct training courses for the staff of official laboratories;
  • upon request by the appropriate authority, actively assist in the diagnosis of outbreaks of foodborne diseases and in case of non-compliance of consignments, by carrying out confirmatory diagnoses, characterisation and taxonomic studies on pathogen isolates;
  • be responsible for carrying out other specific duties as required by the competent authority;
  • where relevant, validate the reagents and lots of reagents, establish and maintain up-to-date lists of available reference substances and reagents and of manufacturers and suppliers of such substances and reagents.