Shellfish Classification

Information relating to the classification and categories of shellfish

IN THIS ARTICLE

  • Background Information
  • What are the different classifications for shellfish production areas and what do they mean?
  • I gather shellfish - how does shellfish classification affect me?
  • Where can I find information on shellfish classification or scores around Colchester?

Background Information

EC Regulations 853/2004 and 854/2004 set out criteria relating to the commercial production and sale of live bivalve molluscs (clams, cockles, oysters, mussels etc) from classified production areas. These Regulations are law in the UK and are implemented by means of the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013. 

Data for shellfish waters in England and Wales is compiled by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) using the results of monthly bacteriological sampling carried out by Local Authorities. Production areas are then classified, by the Food Standards Agency, according to the E. coli levels in the shellfish sampled from the harvesting areas.

The classification determines the areas where shellfish can be collected from and how the shellfish have to be treated, after harvesting, to ensure that they are safe to eat. 

Any live bivalve molluscs leaving an approved processing plant must be in packages bearing the health mark of the establishment (two letters followed by a number). Any business opening such a package must keep this label for at least 60 days for traceability purposes.

Why do you need to classify shellfish and what does it mean?

When shellfish are collected to be sold we have to make sure they are processed properly to reduce the chances of anyone getting food poisoning or illness. To do that we test and classify areas that produce shellfish.

Every month, we take samples of shellfish in waters around Colchester borough and test for bacteria. This data then gets collected and compiled by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science.

Lastly, the Food Standards Agency classify shellfish waters. This classification tells you whether it’s safe to collect shellfish in an area and how they need to be treated or processed before being sold.

What are the different classifications for shellfish production areas and what do they mean?

There are three classifications:

  • A class - bivalve molluscs can be harvested for direct human consumption without needing processing.
  • B class - bivalve molluscs can be marketed for human consumption after purification in an approved plant or after relaying in an approved class A relaying area or after being subjected to an EC approved heat treatment process.
  • C class - bivalve molluscs can be marketed for human consumption only after relaying for at least two months in an approved relaying area followed, where necessary, by treatment in a purification centre, or after an EC approved heat treatment process. 
  • Prohibited areas - bivalve molluscs must not be subject to production or be collected. 
  • Unclassified areas - bivalve molluscs must not be subject to production or be collected. 

Live shellfish registration documents

Registration documents are an important link in a chain of public health control measures designed to ensure that shellfish placed on the market are safe to eat.

It is therefore essential that the origin of the shellfish is known and that this traceability is maintained from harvesting to final sale.

There is a legal requirement for each batch or consignment of live bivalve molluscs or live shellfish being removed from a designated shellfish production area, or in the case of non-filter feeding gastropods such as whelks and periwinkles, from unclassified areas, to be accompanied by a registration document.

Registration documents are available free of charge on request.

How can I request registration documents?

Blank uniquely numbered registration documents can be obtained free of charge by downloading, completing and submitting a registration document request form.

Documents can then be either posted to you or collected. Information about species, location of production area and destination and treatment of the shellfish will be required prior to the issuing of documents.

If you are not gathering from a production or harvesting area within Colchester Borough Council areas you should contact the local authority who cover the production or harvesting area and they will issue you with documents.

When do I need to complete a registration document?

A new document must be used for each batch. The completed registration document must accompany each batch at all times during transport from the production area to the place of destination, e.g. purification centre, dispatch centre, relaying area, processing plant. All relevant sections must be completed legibly and indelibly.

Documents are issued in duplicate (pre-carbonated) and must be completed by the person responsible for the removal of the shellfish from the bed. One copy must be sent with the batch of live shellfish, and the other retained for 12 months by you.

It is important that part 2 of the registration document is completed by the person receiving the shellfish and that both they and the gatherer keep a copy for 12 months. However, if a batch is split, then a copy of the original registration document is permitted and must accompany each sub batch together with the full name and address of the person splitting the batch.

Regulation summary

EC Regulations 853/2004 (Article 7/Annex III, Section VII, Chapter I) and 854/2004 (Annex III, Section VII, Chapter IX) set out criteria relating to the commercial production and sale of live bivalve molluscs from classified production areas. These regulations are law in the UK and are implemented by means of the Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006.

Will my registration documents be inspected?

Authorised officers have the authority to inspect registration documents held by harvesters in order to ensure that they are being completed and used correctly. Officers will make random visits to worked shellfish production areas in order to check documents, they may also ask to see previously completed documents to verify that they are being filled in and used correctly.

The registration document system's main aim is to safeguard public health by maintaining a level of traceability within the chain of harvesting, movement, relaying (where appropriate), purification or heat treatment to the final consumer. This allows for recall of product if a food safety incident occurs, e.g. algal toxins discovered in harvesting waters, food poisoning outbreak, etc.

Do you have any guidance on how to handle oysters for sale?

Yes! Our handy guidance leaflet has information and tips on how to handle and sell oysters safely.

Where can I find information on shellfish classification or scores around Colchester?

Information on all shellfish production areas, including ours, is available at the Food Standards Agency website.

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