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Whitstable Oyster Company farm reopens after sickness bouts


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A ban on the sale of oysters caught off Whitstable has been lifted after a shellfish farm was shut down twice in one month.

The town’s famous delicacy was withdrawn on Monday, July 19, amid reports consumers had fallen ill after eating the product days earlier.

The Whitstable Oyster Company farms off the north Kent coast. Picture: Whitstable Oyster Company
The Whitstable Oyster Company farms off the north Kent coast. Picture: Whitstable Oyster Company

But officials have confirmed that the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company (WOFC) has been allowed to recommence harvesting and sales “on a restricted staged return basis”.

Canterbury City Council spokesman Rob Davies says the authority, along with the firm, will continue to monitor the situation.

“It has been about a month since the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company harvested any shellfish following the receipt of complaints of people experiencing illness symptoms,” he said.

“Working with the Food Standards Agency, Public Health England and the Environment Agency, we have reached an agreement for the company to recommence harvesting and sales on a restricted staged return basis.

"Ongoing testing for toxins, e-coli and other contaminants have been regularly carried out.”

About 100 people reportedly fell ill in June after eating the Whitstable oysters, before more people suffered bouts of sickness last month
About 100 people reportedly fell ill in June after eating the Whitstable oysters, before more people suffered bouts of sickness last month

The WOFC farm was shut down on June 27 when at least 100 people reportedly fell ill.

It was allowed to sell oysters again the following month, but was then forced to close four days later after further reports of sickness.

Public Health England said the first closure came when “a small number” of the people affected tested positive for norovirus after eating oysters in late May and early June.

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) in Hong Kong, which suspended imports of the oysters, noted pathogens, such as norovirus or toxins, can accumulate in the shellfish if they are “harvested in contaminated water”.

Despite this, a WOFC spokesman previously insisted there was nothing to suggest the most recent cases of ill-health were linked to the shellfish.

Sales of the Whitstable delicacy were halted in June and July following the reports of sickness
Sales of the Whitstable delicacy were halted in June and July following the reports of sickness

“Extra measures, including enhanced processing facilities, have been put in place by the company to ensure their produce can be consumed safely and that they comply with all the hygiene requirements for the sale of live shellfish,” Mr Davies continued.

“The situation will be monitored carefully by the company working with the council in the days and weeks ahead.”

WOFC did not respond to a request for a comment.

Read more: All the latest news from Whitstable

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