To assure the safety of shellfish grown in Rhode Island by testing shellfish, shellfish harvesting areas and holding facilities for microbiological and chemical contaminants.
What we do
Analyze water samples collected from shellfish growing areas of the Narragansett Bay and the state’s salt ponds weekly for fecal contamination.
Report laboratory results to the DEM shellfish program for decisions made to close shellfish harvesting areas based on high fecal coliform counts or re-open the shell fishing areas when it is safe to resume shellfish harvesting again.
Identify and quantify microbiological and chemical food contaminants following strict international quality standards.
Participate in the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN), a network of qualified laboratories that respond to food contamination threats to the national food supplies.
The Science Behind Shellfish Safety
In 2018 the shellfish laboratory became one of only two laboratories on the east coast approved by the FDA National Shellfish Sanitation Program for the analysis of domoic acid, a biotoxin produced by the harmful plankton Pseudo nitzschia. This plankton was responsible for closing shell fishing in October 2016 and February 2017 when harmful blooms occurred in Narragansett Bay and southern New England coastal waters. This testing is performed to determine when the bloom has dissipated and is no longer a threat to public health.
A new more sensitive test method was implemented for testing domoic acid. This method will be employed to protect public health and safeguard the shellfish industry and the state’s shellfish reputation by determining earlier when harmful plankton are producing domoic acid.
The shellfish laboratory is a member of the Rhode Island Shellfish Initiative, a partnership of government, business, academia, and community to strengthen our state’s shellfish management practices and promote growth and innovation within our local seafood industry.