U.S. firms slow to catch Korean mollusk alert


Steven Hedlund

Published on
June 14, 2012

Many U.S. distributors, retailers and foodservice operators have yet to remove Korean mollusks from the marketplace, about a month after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initially warned that they may be a safety risk.

On Thursday, the FDA circulated a press release advising against the consumption of mollusks imported from Korea, which a bevy of mainstream media outlets picked up on. The press release comes about a month after the agency issued a constituent update to about 65,000 subscribers, including members of the trade press.

But it appears that many distributors, retailers and foodservice operators never caught word of the alert or ignored it altogether.

“Following the initial notification, many food companies began to remove the products from their distribution chain,” FDA spokesman Curtis Allen told SeafoodSource on Friday. “However, many others have yet to do so. We want to alert those who may not be aware of the issue and provide them with more information.”

A representative from a U.S. West Coast seafood importer that sells Korean oysters, who asked to be anonymous, echoed the FDA’s sentiment that many companies have yet to act on the alert. The importer has personally contacted each of its customers and has been in contact with the FDA about the problem.

In mid-May, the FDA, in its constituent update, announced that Korea’s shellfish sanitation program no longer meets the sanitation controls spelled out under the United States’ National Shellfish Sanitation Program. An FDA investigation found significant deficiencies with the Korea’s program, including inadequate sanitary controls, ineffective management of land-based pollution sources and detection of norovirus in shellfish-growing areas.

Norovirus causes vomiting or diarrhea, but no illnesses from eating Korean mollusks have been reported in the United States this year, according to the FDA.

The importer said the FDA has said only so much about the investigation but added that the company’s been cooperating with the agency and is now looking into the matter itself.

Included in the alert are all fresh, frozen, canned and processed oysters, clams, mussels and whole and roe-on scallops from Korea. Korean mollusks represent only a fraction of total U.S. mollusk imports, and oysters represented the bulk of U.S. imports of Korean mollusks, totaling about 8.5 million pounds last year, according to NOAA Fisheries.

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