State Health Department and FDA Warn to Avoid Eating Tomalley in American Lobster

ALBANY, N.Y. (August 1, 2008) - The state Department of Health today reminded New Yorkers NOT TO EAT tomalley, which is the green substance found in American lobsters, because of potential contamination with dangerous levels of the toxins that may cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP). This advice applies only to the tomalley and NOT to the actual meat of the lobster which can be eaten. This advice re-affirms the recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consumer advisory for tomalley.

Tomalley, also called mustard, liver or hepato-pancreas, is found in the body cavity of the lobster. High levels of PSP toxins were found in tomalley in American lobsters. Cooking does not destroy the PSP toxins. American lobsters are collected from marine waters in the Atlantic Ocean from Northeastern Canada to South Carolina.

This warning applies to the tomalley of all American lobsters, regardless of where the lobsters were harvested.

PSP toxin is produced by algae associated with "red tide." It is not clear how the PSP toxins produced by the algae become concentrated in the tomalley of the lobsters. In previous years, testing of the hepato-pancreas detected very low levels of PSP toxin. This year, however, high levels of the PSP toxin were found in lobster hepato-pancreas taken from waters in northern New England and eastern Canada, waters affected by red tide.

Early symptoms of PSP poisoning include tingling or numbness of the lips, tongue, face or neck. These symptoms may develop within minutes of consuming the contaminated food or may take an hour or two to develop. Symptoms may progress to tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes and then loss of control of arms and legs, followed by difficulty breathing. Some people have reported a feeling of floating or feeling nauseous. If enough toxin is consumed, muscles of the chest and abdomen can become paralyzed and death can result. Anyone experiencing any of these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.

For several years, DOH has advised avoiding eating tomalley from crabs and lobsters because cadmium, PCBs and other contaminants concentrate in the tomalley. Because these chemical contaminants are transferred to cooking liquid, DOH also advises discarding crab or lobster cooking liquid.

For further information please call your local health department. More information is also available on the FDA website at http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2008/NEW01866.html