New test results are showing high levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) in lobster tomalley, say Maine health officials, which last week advised consumers to avoid eating the substance.

Tomalley is a soft, green substance found in the body cavity of the lobster. It functions as the liver.

"Much like the liver of other animals, the tomalley serves as a natural filter for contaminants that are in the water," says Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. "That is one reason why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has advised consumers for many years not to eat tomalley. However, lobster meat is safe to eat."

The Maine Department of Marine Resources, which monitors shellfish toxins along the state's coastline, has issued closures this summer for bivalves, including mussels, clams and oysters, due to toxic algal blooms known as red tide. Similar advisories on tomalley due to PSP are in effect in Canada.

Although it had been about 30 years since the last report of Mainers with red tide poisoning, the state has seen two incidents in the past year, involving a total of seven people. Both incidents involved people from Washington County consuming mussels harvested for personal use and from mussels growing from a rope or barrel floating in the ocean in areas closed for shellfish harvesting because of red tide.

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9-11 February 2015
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