California Health Officials Issue Warning on Crab Consumption

California health officials are advising the public to steer clear of certain crabs due to high levels of domoic acid.

Health officials are warning the general California public of crabs "due to the detection of dangerous levels of domoic acid." Dungeness and rock crabs caught in waters between the Oregon borders and the southern Santa Barbara County line pose a "significant risk to the public if consumed," the California Department of Public Health warned in a news release.

Recent test results have shown persistently high levels of domoic acid in Dungeness crab and Rock crab, which have been caught along the California coastline. The levels have exceeded the state's action level for the crabs' body meat as well as the viscera, commonly referred to as crab butter, and therefore pose a significant risk to the public if they are consumed.

Domoic acid accumulation in seafood is a natural occurrence that is related to a "bloom" of a particular single-celled plant called Pseudo-nitzschia. The conditions that support the growth of this plant are impossible to predict, and it is unknown when the levels found in crabs will subside. The health advisory will be lifted once the levels are no longer above acceptable levels.

Symptoms of domoic acid poisoning can occur within 30 minutes to 24 hours after eating toxic seafood. In mild cases, symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache, and dizziness. These symptoms disappear within several days. In severe cases, the victim may experience trouble breathing, confusion, disorientation, cardiovascular instability, seizures, excessive bronchial secretions, permanent loss of short-term memory (a condition known as Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning), coma, or death. There have been no reported illnesses associated with this event.

About the Author

Sydny Shepard is the former editor of Occupational Health & Safety.

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