B.C. shellfish lovers are being warned to use caution if harvesting their own meals, amid a spike in recent cases of foodborne illness.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control says it has documented five cases of Vibrio illness in the last two weeks linked to wild shellfish and likely due to high levels of bacteria in warming ocean waters.

Vibrio parahaemolyticus is a naturally occurring bacteria, according to BCCDC food safety specialist Lorraine McIntyre, but grows rapidly in warmer temperatures.

That’s been a problem in B.C., where she said officials have recently noted temperatures as warm as 20 C at depths of up to 10 metres.

“It’s been very hot,” she said.

Vibrio illness can lead to severe gastrointestinal distress, including abdominal cramps, vomiting and diarrhea, with an onset of about 12 hours and lasting up to three days. Serious cases can result in death.

“It’s really important this time of year when you harvest oysters and other shellfish that you harvest them on a receding tide, make sure they’re cold as soon as you dig them up and cook them very thoroughly,” she said.

The BCCDC is also warning shellfish harvesters to always check the agency’s shellfish harvesting status map before collecting any clams, mussels or oysters, and never to harvest in areas that are closed.

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