Seafood scrutiny: South Korea to step up shellfish and egg inspections to prevent food poisoning outbreaks

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

South Korea is to increase inspections and analysis of shellfish and egg products in order to cut down the risks of food poisoning. ©Getty Images
South Korea is to increase inspections and analysis of shellfish and egg products in order to cut down the risks of food poisoning. ©Getty Images

Related tags Food safety

South Korea is to increase inspections and analysis of shellfish and egg products in order to cut down the risks of food poisoning outbreaks, most notably of norovirus and salmonella.

South Korea’s food safety authority Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) recently announced in a pan-government food poisoning countermeasures council meeting that it would be heading a government-wide strategy in 2024 to prevent outbreaks.

This collaborative approach is expected to involve 34 individual public organisations including central administrative agencies, local governments and public associations across the nation, as well as ministries such as the Ministry of Education.

“This government-wide response plan aims to strengthen food safety management and prevention in 2024 in order to reduce food poisoning outbreaks in South Korea,”​ MFDS Ministry Oh Yoo-kyung said via a formal statement.

“This year, the strategy will focus on the intensive management of norovirus and salmonella [bacteria to prevent] food poisoning, strengthening inter-ministerial cooperation to quickly and effectively identify the cause of food poisoning cases, and also field-tailor education and promotion [to increase awareness and knowledge].

Norovirus and salmonella in particular were found to be the most common causes of food poisoning in 2023, hence will require intensive management across the board by all parties.”

According to government data, the number of food poisoning cases linked to bacterial contamination in 2023 were led by norovirus contamination at 68 cases or 19% of all cases, salmonella at 47 cases (13%) and also pathogenic Escherichia coli also at 47 cases (13%).

Norovirus is most commonly associated with shellfish contamination, and salmonella with egg contamination, resulting in these food products coming under intense scrutiny this year.

“To prevent food poisoning by the norovirus bacteria, more frequent inspections of shellfish production areas will be conducted in conjunction with the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries – the aim is to carry out shellfish collection and analysis in these areas once a week,”​ MFDS added.

“The collection and inspection of raw oysters will also be doubled this year form 240 to 480 instances, and there will be more inspections conducted at the food facilities of daycare centres and children’s activity centres which is crucial to prevent any infections from spreading.

“There will also be more monitoring conducted on vegetables grown using groundwater or river water throughout the year in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA).”

MFDS and MAFRA will also be working together to conduct food safety tests on eggs in the local market in order to prevent salmonella contamination outbreaks.

“We are increasing the annual testing for salmonella to 4,000 tests annually on fresh eggs from farms, and also to 500 tests at the distribution stage from the existing 300 tests,”​ MFDS added.

“Eggs are also a very commonly-used ingredient in popular local dishes such as gimbap (rice rolls), hence we are also working with related organisations such as the Korea Restaurant Association to promote food poisoning prevention tips to the relevant retailers and foodservice providers.”

Heart of the issue

Apart from governance and management measures, the ministry is looking to provide more direct assistance to industry players at the heart of the issue.

“Education on hygiene is important [and we also] plan to provide additional food poisoning prevention diagnostic consulting services, especially to food businesses that have a history of such outbreaks,”​ Oh said.

“Cooperation between all ministries is very important in order to block the wide-scale spread of any food poisoning, and to establish a response system that can quickly evolve in the early stages of an outbreak [to shut it down].

“As such, effective food poisoning prevention measures such as these are a crucial response to changes in consumers’ food consumption patterns such as increased occasions of eating out of home.”

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