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Safety tips on shellfish-related illnesses

Warm weather and low tides are good for harvesting shellfish, but nice weather is also ideal for naturally-occurring bacteria to multiply, raising the risk of illness. The Department of Health is advising Washington’s shellfish consumers to follow summertime health advice as they head to area beaches to gather shellfish.

“Sunshine and warming waters are ideal conditions for the bacteria that cause vibriosis to multiply,” said Jerrod Davis, director of the Office of Shellfish and Water Protection, in a press release. “This raises the risk of getting sick from eating raw or undercooked shellfish – especially oysters.”

Here are some tips to avoid getting ill:

• Make sure oysters are placed on ice or refrigerated immediately after they are picked.

• Harvest shellfish as the tide goes out and don’t take shellfish that have been exposed by the receding tide for more than an hour.

• Cook shellfish thoroughly, especially in the summer months, because the Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria are killed when shellfish have reached 145° F for 15 seconds.

• Don’t rinse cooked shellfish with seawater because it can be re-contaminated with Vibrio.

Vibriosis symptoms usually appear within 24 hours of eating infected shellfish and may include diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever and chills. Symptoms typically last between two to seven days.

Not all shellfish illnesses can be prevented by cooking. Biotoxins are also found in Washington waters and are not destroyed by cooking. The Shellfish Safety Hotline can be reached at 1-800-562-5632.

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