Shellfish Sanitation Laboratory

Since 1985, GCRL's Microbiology Laboratory has performed all testing of Mississippi's oyster waters and product for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR). These tests are necessary to comply with federal regulations designed to protect public health. Without such tests, Mississippi shellfish could not be sold commercially or shipped across state lines. GCRL is the only conforming shellfish testing lab in the state of Mississippi.

GCRL Shellfish Sanitation LaboratoryThe GCRL Microbiology Laboratory, lead by Dawn Rebarchik, provides this vital service to the (MDMR under guidelines set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under the National Shellfish Sanitation Program. These guidelines require that each state that harvests live shellfish must continuously monitor the growing waters for fecal coliform levels. Water quality testing focuses on fecal coliform bacteria, which serve as a good indicator of other potential biological contaminants.

MDMR personnel regularly collect seawater samples throughout the year from oyster harvest waters and deliver them to GCRL for analysis. GCRL Microbiology Laboratory personnel test the samples for fecal coliforms. Results are transmitted to MDMR immediately upon completion of testing, which requires approximately 24 hours. All data are reported to MDMR to support MDMR's management decisions regarding the oyster harvest. GCRL provides analytical support only; decisions on opening or closing of harvest areas are made by MDMR.

When there is a specific concern, MDMR also collects oyster meat samples for testing at GCRL. These tests require three to four days in the lab.

Background - The Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC) was formed in 1982 to foster and promote shellfish sanitation through the cooperation of state and federal control agencies, the shellfish industry, and the academic community. The ISSC performs evaluations on the labs that perform these tests across the country to maintain continuity, consistency, quality control and good lab practices. There are mandatory evaluations performed every couple of years but the lab is subject to evaluation at any time. Testing must be performed in an exacting manner following every guideline to the letter. The analyses are done for a regulatory purpose, not for scientific research purposes.
Mississippi Shellfish Sanitation Program, from the GCRL Microbiology Laboratory

During 2013, the GCRL Microbiology Laboratory hopes to become certfied by the FDA as a post-harvest processing (PHP) lab as well. PHP testing entail analyzing oysters after they have been processed and treated to reduce instances of Vibrio vulnificus.  Most other coastal states, including Louisiana, Alabama and Texas have PHP testing labs, but no PHP testing laboratory currently exists in Mississippi.

Beach and Water Quality Monitoring

The Microbiology Laboratory also performs beach monitoring and ambient water monitoring of Mississippi rivers, streams, watersheds, and treatment plant effluent in accordance with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Similar federal certification and compliance programs for laboratories apply to this testing.