Clams and Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning
For those who enjoy digging their own clams, it is imperative that you be familiar with paralytic shellfish poisoning or PSP. PSP is caused by a marine biotoxin ingested by shellfish, including clams. Commercial seafood is regulated, inspected and tested, so chances of PSP from commercial seafood carries a minimal risk. However, you are on your own when you dig your own so it is important to check with your local marine fishery government agency before going clamming.
Keep in mind that even proper cooking does not kill offending biotoxins.
PSP is a very real danger on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and wherever shellfish is harvested. Normally associated with but not limited to red tide, be aware that biotoxins can still be present in clear waters. Some shellfish, such as butter clams, can store toxins in their bodies up to two years.
Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and tingling or burning lips, gums, tongue, face, neck, arms, legs, and toes. And yes, one clam could be fatal. If you should suffer any of these symptoms after eating shellfish, take emergency action and immediately seek medical assistance as there is no specific antidote.
Do not test freshly caught shellfish by chewing a small amount and waiting for effects to manifest. Ingestion is the key, and it might be your last experiment. You can further reduce the PSP risk by not eating any of the digestive organ or dark areas of clams, ie., eat only the white or light portions.
The tip of the syphon is especially vulnerable. These portions should be removed before cooking, not after, and the remainder of the meat should be thoroughly washed. And remember, the absorption of any toxin is accelerated if you have consumed alcoholic beverages.