Bivalve shellfish are well-known vectors for human pathogens. Recent research on commercial shellfish beds has shown that the bacterial reservoir contained within the shellfish flesh in situ is often not representative of the microbial quality of the shellfish at the point of sale. This study investigates whether barnacles living on the surface of mussels represent a potential bacterial reservoir within shellfish beds and assesses their potential as a vector for human pathogen transfer. Barnacle and mussel samples were collected from 3 independent intertidal mussel (Mytilus edulis Linnaeus, 1758) beds and subjected to standard microbiological testing and ecological evaluation. Our results show that coliform concentrations were significantly higher in barnacles than in the corresponding mussels, per unit area, across all surveyed sites. The dominant observed barnacle species was the invasive barnacle Austrominius (Elminius) modestus (Darwin, 1854) which has outcompeted native species in the region and contains increased coliform bacterial concentrations relative to other observed barnacle species. This study concludes that, where present, epizoic barnacles represent a significant reservoir for bacteria within shellfish beds and, therefore, have the capacity to act as vectors for human pathogens. Further work is needed to quantify the subsequent viability/pathogenicity of the epizoic bacterial reservoir after shellfish harvesting and food processing.
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Vol. 32 • No. 2