• Alaska Department of Health issues PSP warning for Southeast Alaska shellfish

The butter clam has one set of rings that go one direction only, around the same center point (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

The butter clam has one set of rings that go one direction only, around the same center point (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

On Friday, June 22, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services issued a paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) warning for Southeast Alaska shellfish. Please be aware that there have been several PSP blooms in recent years, and the PSP toxin has sent several people to the hospital and even resulted in a couple of deaths.

The state in general does not recommend the recreational or subsistence harvest of shellfish (in particular filter-feeding bi-valves such as clams, cockles, oysters, mussels and others) from Alaska beaches because they are not checked for the PSP toxin. Commercial shellfish is tested for PSP and safe to eat. In addition to the links in the press release below, here is a link to more information about PSP from the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), http://searhc.org/publications/featured_stories/2011_06_psp.php. Now here is the text of the release:


Scientists advise against harvesting shellfish due to large “red tide” in Southeast Alaska

State health officials remind public about risks

 

ANCHORAGE — Warm weather combined with an increasingly large algae bloom in Southeast Alaska has scientists advising extra caution to would-be recreational shellfish harvesters. Water samples taken from around Etolin Island show increasing levels of Alexandrium algae, which produces paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) in shellfish. Tests have also shown a slight increase in Alexandrium levels on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island as well as extremely high levels around Juneau.

The littleneck clam has two sets of rings that cross each other at 90 degree angles (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

The littleneck clam has two sets of rings that cross each other at 90 degree angles (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

Scientists have also identified unsafe levels of three different species of Dinophysis algae, which produces diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP), in samples from around Ketchikan. DSP can cause diarrhea, PSP can cause paralysis.

“These Alexandrium levels are similar to what we saw last year when we had such high levels of PSP toxins in shellfish,” said Kate Sullivan, with the University of Alaska Southeast and co-founder of the Alaska Harmful Algal Bloom Partnership (AHAB). “Last summer we had a number of cases, including four people who needed to be hospitalized. We want people to be extra cautious and remember that the only safe shellfish is the kind you buy at the store.”

A cockle has deep ridges similar to a Ruffles potato chip (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

A cockle has deep ridges similar to a Ruffles potato chip (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

Early signs of paralytic shellfish poisoning often include tingling of the lips and tongue. Symptoms may progress to tingling of fingers and toes, then loss of control of arms and legs, followed by difficulty breathing. Death can result in as little as two hours.

All locally harvested shellfish — including clams, mussels, oysters, geoducks and scallops — can contain paralytic shellfish poison. Crabmeat is not known to contain the PSP toxin, but crab guts can contain unsafe levels of toxin and should be discarded. There is no way to tell if a beach is safe for harvesting by looking at it. Toxins can be present in large amounts even if the water looks clear. Also, the toxin can remain in shellfish long after the algae bloom is over. PSP cannot be cooked, cleaned or frozen out of shellfish. Commercially grown shellfish is tested and considered safe.

Paralytic shellfish poisoning is considered a public health emergency. Suspected cases must be reported immediately to the Section of Epidemiology by health care providers at 907-269-8000 during work hours or 800-478-0084 after hours.

For more information on PSP go to:

http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/dfbmd/diseases/marine_toxins/, or

http://www.epi.alaska.gov/id/dod/psp/ParalyticShellfishPoisoningFactSheet.pdf

• Recent paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) serve as reminder to not eat certain types of locally harvested shellfish

The butter clam has one set of rings that go one direction only, around the same center point (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

The butter clam has one set of rings that go one direction only, around the same center point (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

This past week, there were four suspected cases of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) reported in Juneau. These four cases, combined with a couple of PSP cases in the Ketchikan/Metlakatla areas this winter and record-high levels of the PSP toxin found in shellfish last summer should serve as reminders that the state discourages eating recreationally and subsistence-harvested shellfish on most beaches in Alaska.

The first three PSP cases reported to the Alaska Section on Epidemiology last week involved clams harvested over the Easter weekend near Juneau — the first case reported April 10 involved razor clams from Admiralty Island and the next two cases reported April 12 involved butter clams from either Lincoln Island or Ralston Island. On April 13, another case was reported where a person ate pink neck clams (also known as surf clams) harvested from Shelter Island.

The littleneck clam has two sets of rings that cross each other at 90 degree angles (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

The littleneck clam has two sets of rings that cross each other at 90 degree angles (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

In each case, the people who ate the clams experienced classic PSP toxin symptoms — tingling and numbness of the mouth and tongue that eventually can extend into the extremities and then the rest of the body. Once the toxin moves into the body, it can paralyze the heart and lungs, causing them to stop and leading to intensive care treatment and possibly death (PSP deaths were reported in Juneau and Haines in 2010). If people experience these symptoms, they should get to the hospital immediately because sometimes a hospital respirator can save a life.

PSP can cause severe health problems and even death, and there is no antidote. The toxin is not visible, and requires special testing to be detected. It can occur during any month of the year, and the toxin can remain in affected shellfish for as long as two years. There is no antidote to the toxin. PSP generally affects bivalves that filter food when they eat, such as clams, cockles, mussels, oysters or scallops. Crab meat does not carry the PSP toxin, but crab guts can have the toxin since crab eat bivalves.

A cockle has deep ridges similar to a Ruffles potato chip (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

A cockle has deep ridges similar to a Ruffles potato chip (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

Southeast Alaska beaches, like most beaches in the state frequented by recreational and subsistence harvesters, are not tested by the state for the PSP toxin. The state does check commercially harvested shellfish for the toxin, but in recent months at least one commercial geoduck season was closed because of the toxin’s presence.

To learn more about PSP, here is an informational page created by the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) after last year’s extremely high levels of PSP toxin were discovered. This page features information about how PSP is formed, what types of shellfish can carry the PSP toxin, basic first aid for PSP symptoms and more.

• Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning Fact Sheet from the State of Alaska

• Sonja Koukel of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service writes about home canning crab and shrimp

Dr. Sonja Koukel of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service

Dr. Sonja Koukel of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service

2814027500088610947sTovNd_ph

The following column originally appeared in the Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 2009, issue of Capital City Weekly and was made available to the Sitka Local Foods Network site. This column runs monthly.

More on Home Canning Seafood: Crab and Shrimp

By Dr. Sonja Koukel, PhD
Health, Home & Family Development Program
UAF Cooperative Extension Service

For the Aug. 5 Capital City Weekly issue, I submitted an article focusing on home canning seafood, specifically crab and geoducks. I was pleased to receive an e-mail from a reader asking for more information. As many of you may have had the same questions I’m sharing my responses here.

To refresh: In the article, I provided the guideline for freezing crab as that is the best preservation method for this food. Experts recommend boiling the live crab for five minutes -– at which time the crab is considered “cooked.”

Our reader asked two questions.

The first:

“Please let me know if this [recommended time] is a misprint. All the people I know who cook crab heat water in a crab cooking vessel until the water boils, then they boil the crab a minimum of 15 minutes before cooling it. I have often wondered if the 15-minute boiling period is too long, but have always deferred to the locals with crab experience. What is the critical issue in crab cooking?”

The second question:

“When cooking shrimp, on the other hand, the accepted practice seems to be: put the critters in a pot, bring the water to boil, then remove the shrimp when they float to the surface, which does not take very long.”

My responses to these two questions follow.

Dear Capital City Weekly Reader,

In regards to your questions, I did some further research over the weekend on the topics of cooking crab and shrimp. Here is what I found.

Crab:

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service uses the University of Georgia Extension publication, “So Easy to Preserve,” as the main resource for home canning and food preservation information. Much of the information in this publication is based on the USDA, “Complete Guide to Home Canning,” as well as research from Extension Services across the US. In fact, Alaska Cooperative Extension is represented in the publication for the processing times for canning fish in quart jars (Kristy Long, Foods Specialist UAF CES).

For more information, I resourced other Extension websites and found a variety of cooking times for preparing crab for freezing. Oregon State University Extension publication, “home freezing of seafood” (PNW0586), recommends the following for whole crab: [after preparing crab] Cook in boiling salt water (2-4 Tbsp. per gallon, according to your taste preference) for 12-15 minutes. If the back is left intact, add 10 minutes to the cooking time. Add 2-3 minutes to the cooking time if the water doesn’t boil within a few minutes after adding the crab.

This from the Sea Grant Extension Program, UC Davis, “Freezing Seafood at Home”: You can either freeze crabmeat in the shell or as picked crabmeat. Cook crab before freezing to prevent discoloration of the crabmeat. Drop live crabs into enough boiling water to cover the crabs. Cover and return water to a boil. Boil for about 25 minutes. Remove crabs from boiling water and cool them immediately in cold water. Let crabs cool for several minutes and then drain.

One purpose served by boiling the crab prior to freezing is that the process makes the meat easier to remove from the shell. As far as food safety, boiling will kill any parasites and/or bacteria that contribute to the decay of the shellfish. My sources claim that this is done after one minute in the boiling water. A celebrity chef wrote on his website that the cooking time for crab is not based on food safety but on the product being undercooked, cooked, and overcooked. A good guideline for cooking crab is to check the color of the shell. When the crab is done, the shell turns an orange/red color.

Something to take into consideration when looking at information on the Internet, many sources group all types of crab into one category. On the East Coast, most crab will be Maryland blue crab which are smaller than the Dungeness crab normally consumed in the Northwest. Just keep in mind that you have a safe and easy to handle product when the crab is boiled at least five minutes prior to freezing.

Now, the reply to the shrimp question.

The Sea Grant Extension Program, University of Delaware, instructs cooking the live shrimp just to the point of being done (the flesh turns from translucent to opaque). The cooking method you describe — putting live shrimp in a pot of boiling water and removing when they float to the top — is right on. If you were to time this procedure you probably will find that it takes approximately 3-5 minutes to boil one pound of medium sized shrimp.

I appreciate input from readers and welcome all suggestions, inquiries, and ideas. Please contact me via email: sdkoukel@alaska.edu or phone: 907-796-6221.

Sonja Koukel, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Health, Home & Family Development Program for the Juneau District office of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service. Reach her at sdkoukel@alaska.edu or 907-796-6221.

• Local foods articles in Capital City Weekly and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

This week’s issue of Capital City Weekly, a free weekly newspaper distributed throughout Southeast Alaska, included four local food-related stories. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, a daily paper in Fairbanks, also has had a couple of local food-oriented stories the past couple of days. Here are some links to the articles.

Click here to read a Capital City Weekly article on a new community garden being built behind the Glory Hole homeless shelter in downtown Juneau.

Click here to read a Capital City Weekly article on the Montessori Borealis Adolescent Program’s vegetable garden project in Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley.

Click here to read a story about a couple of upcoming University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service classes this weekend in Juneau about how to market specialty food products (geared toward people selling at farmers markets).

Click here to read a Capital City Weekly article on home canning of crab and geoducks by Sonja Koukel of the Juneau office of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.

Click here to read a Fairbanks Daily News-Miner story from Wednesday’s paper from Roxie Rodgers Dinstel of the Fairbanks office of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service about how fireweed (which grows wild in Sitka) can add a subtle flavor to different meals.

Click here to read a Fairbanks Daily News-Miner story from Tuesday’s paper about how Fairbanks students are turning their schoolyards into blooming gardens as part of the EATING (Engaging Alaska Teens IN Gardening) program run by the Calypso Farm and Ecology Center. Click here to read more about the EATING program on the Calypso Farm site.