Shellfish controls to ensure fit for human consumption

Shellfish placed on the market for human consumption must meet the requirements of food law. Placing on the market includes shellfish offered for sale by harvesters / gatherers. These requirements include:

Product must be sourced from classified shellfish beds.

Classification is undertaken by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and shellfish may need further processing before sale for consumption, dependent on the bed classification awarded as follows-

Class A (≤ 230 E.coli/100g) - molluscs can be harvested for direct human consumption

Class B (90% of samples must be ≤ 4600 E.coli/100g, All samples must be less than 46000 E.coli/100g.) - molluscs can only be sold for human consumption:

  • after purification in an approved plant, or
  • after re-laying in an approved Class 'A' re-laying area, or
  • after an EC-approved heat treatment process

Class C  - molluscs can be sold for human consumption only after re-laying for at least two months in an approved re-laying area followed, where necessary, by treatment in a purification centre, or after an EC-approved heat treatment process. (≤ 46000 E.coli/100g)

The current shellfish bed classifications for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can be found on the FSA website -

shellfish harvesting areas 

Any shellfish beds which are subject to local closure notices must not be harvested. Product must comply with toxin and E.coli limits.

Live bivalve molluscs such as cockles, mussels and clams are filter feeders and can accumulate high levels of naturally occurring toxins and pathogens which can be very damaging to health. Whilst the FSA monitors for the presence of toxins in classified areas, the legal responsibility to ensure that food safety requirements are met falls to the food business operator - i.e. anyone selling a product intended for human consumption, including anyone involved in gathering product for sale.

Guidance on test kits is available at

end product testing 

NB; if it is considered that insufficient end product testing is being applied in order to ensure the product is safe, Local Authorities can detain and seize product.

Shellfish must be sold via an approved premises

Local authorities approve premises to either dispatch, purify or cook shellfish. A presumption will be made by enforcement authorities that shellfish found are intended as food and required to be handled in accordance with the provisions set down in EU law.1 If they are not, then detention and seizure (utilising Regulation 29 of the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations and Section 9 of the Food Safety Act) of the product may follow.

1 Regulation (EC) No 853/2004

2 and 3, Regulation (EC) No 853/2004: Annex III, Section VII, Chapter I.

Shellfish must be traceable.

All shellfish should be accompanied by a Registration document2 and harvesters should obtain these from the relevant local authority.

Registration documents must contain at least the following information:

  • the gatherer's identity and address;
  • the date of harvesting;
  • the location of the production area described in as precise detail as is practicable or by a code number;
  • the health status of the production area;
  • the shellfish species and quantity; and
  • the destination of the batch.

Local Authorities are responsible for issuing registration (and permanent transport authorisations) to harvesters. Gatherers and FBOs are responsible for ensuring completed registration documentation accompanies batches of live bi-valve molluscs (LBMs) at all times.3 The FSA has also recently written to Local Authorities reminding them of the requirement to conduct traceability checks of LBMs at food establishments during routine inspections/interventions.

CEFAS Shellfish Classification