The Bahamas Agricultural Health and Food Safety Authority (BAHFSA) Food Safety and Quality (FSQ) Unit has been made aware of suspected conch poisoning cases. BAHFSA would like to caution consumers to avoid eating fresh conch at this time or conch that they suspect was not properly handled and/or prepared until the source of the contamination can be determined.
Conch poisoning is typically caused by the bacterium, Vibrio parahaemolyticus. Contamination is commonly attributed to poor hygienic practices during its handling and preparation. Signs of infection may be in the form of watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, headache and bloody diarrhea and usually occur within 24 hours after ingesting the suspect food but may range between 4 to 96 hours. This may last from 1 to 7 days and although in most instances treatment may not be necessary, infected persons who are experiencing any of these symptoms should seek medical attention at their local clinic or nearest medical facility.
Reporting an illness is critical in conducting a trace-back investigation to determine the point of contamination
and the pathogen at fault. We ask that consumers assist us by reporting these events. This allows the development of an effective and collaborative response to this and similar outbreaks. It is important to note that severe illness is rare and occurs most often in persons with weakened immune systems. BAHFSA is in communication with the Surveillance Unit at the Ministry of Health (MOH), the MOH International Food Safety Authority Network (INFOSAN) Focal Point, the Department of Environmental Health Services (DEHS) and the Department of Marine Resources (DOMR) and will provide further updates once investigations are completed to confirm the exact cause of the conch poisoning. Conch vendors should follow industry best practices to avoid foodborne illnesses due to conch contamination. The following guidelines can be followed:
- It is important when storing the conch in sea water, it remains in an area where the current is flowing and not stagnant as the latter can promote the proliferation of pathogenic organisms;
- Once harvested, vendors should avoid having the conch sit in the sun for long periods of time;
- After cracking and removing the conch meat, it should be gutted and rinsed thoroughly under potable running water for enough time to carefully remove all the slime and debris present;
- When handling the raw conch, vendors should wash their hands before and after preparation with liquid hand soap and warm running water for 20-30 seconds;
- Additionally, vendors should wear gloves particularly when preparing conch salad or other fresh preparations where further cooking is not done. Hair nets and disposable aprons should also be worn to prevent cross contamination. Gloves should be changed regularly if they become torn or in between tasks;
- Conch salad vendors should utilize separate cutting boards for slicing vegetables and the conch. Cutting boards and utensils should be cleaned and sanitized in between preparations to avoid cross contamination or the carryover of contamination between preparations;
- Consumers must be vigilant to ensure that wherever they are purchasing raw conch dishes, vendors are following hygienic practices in the preparation of these dishes. Those who purchase raw conch to prepare at home should follow these preparation steps as well;
- Remember, if in doubt, throw it out!
All food handlers, including conch vendors are required to have a valid food handler’s certificate issued by the Ministry of Health Food Handler’s Unit.