Harmful Algal Blooms (HABS) Surveillance Programmes and Monitoring

At certain times of the year naturally occurring algae in the sea can give rise to blooms, which may not necessarily be noticeable. Algae in these blooms may produce potent biotoxins. These can accumulate in filter-feeding bivalve molluscs and sometimes in other shellfish, such as grazing gastropods.

Regulatory testing

At certain times of the year naturally occurring algae in the sea can give rise to blooms, which may not necessarily be noticeable. Algae in these blooms may produce potent natural aquatic toxins termed "marine biotoxins". These can accumulate in filter-feeding bivalve molluscs and sometimes in other shellfish, such as grazing gastropods.

Eating shellfish contaminated with marine biotoxins may pose risks for those consuming the food, as well as for the seafood industry. In the European Union (including the UK) there are currently three major shellfish biotoxin groups that can be detected in shellfish and which across the EU are subject to statutory testing to protect human health. These are paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins, lipophilic toxins, including those responsible for diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) and amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP) toxins. EU Regulations prescribe the legal controls that are placed on the production and marketing of live bivalve shellfish to ensure that contaminated shellfish are not placed on the market.

Cefas is assisting a number of Food Safety Authorities (including the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS)) and local food enforcement authorities in safeguarding public health by co-ordinating and delivering the testing required under national biotoxin monitoring programmes. The results of the FSA/FSS biotoxin and phytoplankton monitoring programmes are published weekly by the Competent Authorities, and compiled in annual reports. The latest annual reports for England, Wales and Scotland are available below. For copies of previous reports, please contact us.

Cefas also offers their shellfish testing service for marine toxins (ASP, PSP and lipophilic toxins) to private customers, this is undertaken to the same exacting standards as official control testing. The methods follow internationally validated protocols operated to the highest standards. We have a long-standing reputation for the quality of our customer service and ability to consistently deliver high-quality ISO17025 accredited test results to a range of customers.

All of our work is supported by strong science and active high-profile research programme that develop, validate and apply chemical methods, and produce laboratory reference materials.

For further information about any of our HABS services, contact us.

Research

All of our regulatory work is supported and supplemented by strong science and active high-profile research programmes that develop, validate and apply chemical methods, and produce laboratory reference materials. These reference materials are available commercially to aid with the implementation and enhancement of testing methods internationally. Our natural aquatic toxin research portfolio includes EU, UK and internationally-funded projects focussed on a range of subjects, including emerging shellfish toxin threats, fish toxins and human exposure risks from cyanobacterial toxins. We also investigate novel sources of aquatic toxins, toxin outbreaks, the prevalence of toxins in novel matrices and the application of rapid test kits for detection of toxins.