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Tomalley, the Soft Green Substance in the Lobster's Body Cavity, May Have Toxins

July 28, 2008 -- The FDA today warned consumers to avoid eating tomalley in American lobster (also called Maine lobster) because of a potential contamination of dangerous levels of toxins that can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning, which can be fatal.

The warning only applies to tomalley, the soft, green substance found in the lobster body cavity that functions as the liver and pancreas.

American lobster, or Maine lobster, are harvested from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean from northeastern Canada to South Carolina. The FDA's warning applies regardless of where that lobster was harvested.

Cooking doesn't eliminate the paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins. But studies have shown that even when lobster tomalley has high levels of PSP, lobster meat itself is typically unaffected, according to the FDA.

Symptoms of PSP include tingling and/or numbness of the mouth, face, or neck; muscle weakness; headache; and nausea. In extreme cases, when large amounts of toxin are consumed, these symptoms can lead to respiratory failure and death.

Symptoms usually occur within two hours of exposure to the toxin; seek medical attention if any symptoms arise.

PSP toxins normally occur from time to time in clams and other shellfish and are carefully monitored by state regulatory authorities, according to the FDA, which learned of the problem after officials in Maine and New Hampshire found dangerous levels of the toxins in lobster tomalley. Some shellfish beds have been closed in recent months due to elevated levels of PSP toxins.

Lobster tomalley normally doesn't contain dangerous levels of PSP toxins. The current high levels of PSP toxins likely are linked to an ongoing red tide episode in northern New England and eastern Canada, notes the FDA.

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