Notice to Industry – Temporary Requirement for Quality Management Program (QMP) Controls Related to Norovirus in BC Oysters

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March 7, 2017

This notice provides information for federally registered shellfish processing facilities in British Columbia (BC) regarding updated QMP requirements. Effective immediately, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is requiring that BC federally registered processors implement additional control measures in order to address an outbreak of norovirus in Canada linked to the consumption of BC oysters.

What are noroviruses?

Noroviruses are a group of viruses that can cause gastroenteritis in people, an illness that usually includes diarrhea and/or vomiting. Noroviruses are found in the stool or vomit of infected people. They are very contagious and can spread easily from person to person. Some foods can be contaminated at their source. For example, shellfish like oysters may be contaminated by sewage in water before they are harvestedFootnote 1.

Industry responsibilities

Domestic processors and exporters are responsible for ensuring that fish and seafood products meet all applicable regulatory requirements, including the regulations made under the authority of the Fish Inspection Act.

Under the regulatory QMP, BC federally registered establishments must review their Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan regularly. The HACCP Plan must be based on current information, such as new findings in the field of food science, product test results, findings from CFIA inspections and other relevant information. Verification and maintenance of the QMP Plan ensures that adequate processes are in place to produce safe and wholesome products.

New temporary requirements for norovirus risk control measures

Shellfish establishments must be extra diligent, and must now consider norovirus as a significant hazard for the production of live oysters. Additional control measures must be established and followed to help mitigate the risks associated with contaminated product being available on the market. This includes additional actions to verify that harvest sites/areas have not been impacted by sewage contamination, and to verify that shellfish are compliant with the E. coli standard for live bivalve molluscs as noted in the appendix 2 of the Fish Products Standards and Methods Manual. E. coli testing for verification is to be conducted when a landfile is first harvested and on an ongoing biweekly basis during the intended harvest period.

Other control measures may be acceptable provided they have been validated to mitigate the risk.

These additional control measures for norovirus are to remain in effect until the outbreak is declared over; shellfish processing establishments will be advised accordingly.

CFIA's role

The CFIA will verify that the industry has implemented appropriate measures to control the risk through our regular oversight activities. This may include inspections at shellfish processing establishments, and sampling and testing. It is also possible that the CFIA may recommend affected sites or areas be opened or closed based on epidemiological information, sample results and/or relevant harvest area information.

For more information, please contact the CFIA though the Ask CFIA web portal or your local CFIA office.

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