Tasmanian mussel producer develops algae plan to avoid product recalls

[Australia] Product recalls can hit a food business’s bottom line hard, so what if shellfish growers could pre-empt an algal toxic outbreak?

Tasmanian mussel producer Spring Bay Seafoods has devised a plan, which includes rapid test kits, to intervene before outbreaks become a human health issue.

The east coast company has had to deal with several major recalls caused by biotoxins from harmful algal blooms.

The partial shutdown of the Tasmanian shellfish industry in 2012 cost the state’s economy an estimated $23 million.

“A recall can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars,” managing director Phil Lamb said.

“The brand damage can cost you more than that.”

Mussels are particularly sensitive to an algal bloom event.

They accumulate toxins as they feed on algae, which can make them dangerous and potentially fatal to eat.

“Shellfish love algae, they gobble it up.

“If you eat too much of it, it can be a problem to a human, so avoiding that situation was what this was all about.”

Delays receiving test results an issue

Mr Lamb said delays between sampling, testing and reporting of results had been an issue for the shellfish industry.

For the past four years, the Triabunna-based business has been developing a suite of tools to validate its decisions around when not to harvest.

It includes weekly monitoring for harmful algal blooms, alongside a series of on-site laboratory tests on the phytoplankton, algae and biotoxins.

Rapid test kits have provided the company with consistent and reliable results within a two-hour timeframe.

“All shellfish farming areas of Australia are exposed and potentially at risk of facing harmful algal blooms in the future,” Mr Lamb said.

“The marine environment continues to change around the world.

“Algae are the beginning of marine life, so the ability to be able to monitor and detect is going to be valid for any shellfish-producing area, in any state, in any country.”


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