BACKGROUND: Pollution in aquaculture areas may negatively impact edible species and threaten seafood quality and safety. The aim of this study was to determine the interaction between copper and bacteria in the aquatic habitat and their impact upon crustaceans. Marbled crayfish was chosen as a model of aquatic crustaceans and the influence of metal contamination on bacterial community structure in water used to culture crayfish and in crayfish themselves was investigated. Histamine, an allergen commonly formed by certain groups of bacteria in crustacean edible tissue during storage, was also determined. RESULTS: Copper exposure increased its concentration in crayfish meat by 17.4%, but the copper concentration remained within acceptable food safety limits. Elevated copper levels affected the bacterial community both in the water used to cultivate crayfish and in the marbled crayfish themselves. Cluster analysis of 16S rRNA-gene based microbial community fingerprints revealed that copper impacted the bacterial community in the water and in the crayfish meat. However, copper exposure reduced the formation of histamine in crayfish meat during storage by 66.3%. CONCLUSION: Copper from the habitat appears to reduce histamine accumulation in crayfish meat during storage by affecting the bacterial community structure of the cultivation water and most likely also in the intestine of the crayfish. From a food safety point of view, copper treatment during the aqua culturing of crustaceans has a positive impact on the postharvest stage. © 2013 Society of Chemical Industry.