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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/57

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49
FOOD POISONING.

the edible kind, and that the flesh of the poisonous mussel is yellow; the water in which they are boiled becomes bluish.

However, this belief in a poisonous species is now admitted to be erroneous. At one time it was suggested that mussels became hurtful by absorbing the copper from the bottoms of vessels, but Christison made an analysis of the mussels that poisoned the men mentioned by Combe, with negative results, and also pointed out the fact that the symptoms were not those of poisoning with copper. Some have held that the ill effects were due wholly to idiosyncrasies in the consumers, but cats and dogs are affected in the same way as men are. It has also been believed that all mussels are poisonous during the period of reproduction. This theory is the basis of the popular superstition that shellfish should not be eaten during the months in the name of which the letter "r" does not occur. At one time this popular idea took the form of a legal enactment in France forbidding the sale of shellfish from May 1st to September 1st. This widespread idea has a grain of truth in it, inasmuch as decomposition is more likely to alter food injuriously during the summer months. However, poisoning with mussels may occur at any time of the year.

It has been pretty well demonstrated that the first two forms of mussel poisoning mentioned above are due to putrefactive processes, while the paralytic manifestations seen in other cases are due to a poison isolated a few years ago by Brieger, and named by him mytilotoxin. Any mussel may acquire this poison when it lives in filthy water. Indeed, it has been shown experimentally that edible mussels may become harmful when left for fourteen days or longer in filthy water; while, on the other hand, poisonous mussels may become harmless if kept four weeks or longer in clear water. This is true not only of mussels, but of oysters as well. Some years ago, many cases of poisoning from oysters were reported at Havre. The oysters had been taken from a bed near the outlet of a drain from a public water closet. Both oysters and mussels may harbor the typhoid bacillus, and may act as carriers of this germ to man.

There should be most stringent police regulations against the sale of all kinds of mollusks, and all fish as well, taken from filthy waters. Certainly one should avoid shellfish from impure waters, and it is not too much to insist that those offered for food should be washed in clean water. All forms of clam and oyster broth should be avoided when it has stood even for a few hours at summer heat. These preparations very quickly become infected with bacteria, which develop most potent poisons.