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Toxic mussels spark belgo supply switch

01 January 2000
Toxic mussels spark belgo supply switch

By Nikki Daly

Restaurant group Belgo has shunned Scottish mussels in favour of Canadian supplies following a food-poisoning outbreak among 49 diners in its two London restaurants.

Despite stringent monitoring, which is reviewed annually, a batch of mussels from Scotland was subsequently found to contain high levels of shellfish toxins.

Diners reported acute nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and fever within 30 minutes of eating the delicacy, which accounts for 35% of Belgo's dishes.

The outbreak, reported in medical journal The Lancet last week, occurred in June 1997 and was the first major incident for 30 years caused by UK shellfish.

Only prompt action by the company, which called in environmental health officers from the council after several complaints, prevented more than 50 cases of food poisoning.

"It was a complete shock," said operations director Tim Power. "We were completely exonerated. But I would be reticent about using Scottish mussels again."

The Shellfish Association of Great Britain's assistant director Dr Clive Askew said it was an unfortunate but isolated incident. "Monitoring and regulations are extremely tight, especially in that area, which can suffer the rapid growth of [toxic] blooms. There is always tremendous concern for customers, and the reputation and future prospects of the whole trade from what is a natural phenomenon."

Part-owner and chef of the Airds Hotel in Port Appin, Strathclyde, Graeme Allen said he had not heard of any other incidents. "I have no concerns about the mussels, although it is important to get a good merchant who will ensure the quality."

Seafood expert, chef Stephen Ross from Bath's Olive Tree restaurant, said: "Every few years there is an incidence of shellfish poisoning, although live oysters can cause more problems. It is always unwise to serve dishes out of season."

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