Food

The Danger of Eating Contaminated Raw Oysters

Vibrio vulnificus Health Education Kit
March 2004; updated October 2009


Feature Article

This document also available in Spanish.

[ The Name of Your Agency ] Warns the Hispanic Community of the Risks

Summer is here - and so is the time for backyard BBQ's, warm days at the beach and delicious delicacies from the sea. With the great weather comes enjoyment of a particularly favorite summer food, especially popular among Hispanic families -- raw oysters. However, before you consume this food, the [ Name of Your Agency ]would like you to know that individuals with medical conditions may be at a high risk for becoming seriously ill and dying from eating raw oysters contaminated with a naturally-occurring bacteria. The [ Name of Your Agency ]is advising these high-risk individuals to only eat cooked oysters because cooking kills the bacteria.

You can get seriously ill and even die from eating raw oysters contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus - a bacterium commonly found in waters where oysters are cultivated such as the Gulf of Mexico. Vibrio vulnificus is found in higher concentrations during the summer months as water becomes warmer.

"You can't tell if an oyster is contaminated by Vibrio vulnificus by looking at it or by smelling it," said [ Name of Your Expert, Name of the Agency ] spokesperson. "Nor does the freshness of the oyster mean it is safe from bacteria because it is present in the water where live oysters feed."

People at Greater Risk

People who drink alcoholic beverages regularly may be at risk for liver disease, and, as a result, are at risk for serious illness or death from consuming raw oysters contaminated by the bacteria.

"Drinking two to three alcoholic drinks each day can cause liver disease and the liver may be impaired years before an individual begins to experience symptoms," explained [ Name of Your Expert ]. "These people may be at high risk for infection from Vibrio vulnificus and not even know it," [ Name of Your Expert ] added.

In addition, diabetes, cancer, stomach disease, iron overload disease, or any illness or medical treatment that weakens the body's immune system can also put individuals at high risk for Vibrio vulnificus infection.

Am I Infected?

Potentially life-threatening to most people, symptoms of Vibrio vulnificus infection occurs within 24 to 48 hours of ingestion and may include symptoms such as sudden chills, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shock and skin lesions. People with certain medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes or liver disease can die from infection within two days. Anyone showing signs of these symptoms after eating raw oysters should seek medical attention immediately and inform the health care professional on duty that they've eaten raw oysters.

Reducing the Risk

Vibrio vulnificus bacteria is not a result of pollution, so although oysters should always be obtained from reputable sources, eating oysters from "clean" waters or in reputable restaurants with high turnover does not provide protection.

"Many people believe that simply adding lime juice or hot sauce to raw oysters can kill the bacterium," said [ Name of Your Expert ]. "The truth is that only heat can destroy the bacteria, so next time you want to enjoy oysters cook them thoroughly when dining at home, or order them from restaurants cooked when eating out.

For more information about the risks associated with eating raw oysters call [ insert your agency information ].

Eating Oysters

At Restaurants:

  • Order oysters fully cooked.

Cooking at Home:

  • When you purchase oysters the shells should be closed. Throw away any oysters with shells already opened.
  • In the shell: After the shells open, boil live oysters for another 3-5 minutes. (Use small pots to boil or steam oysters. Do not cook too many oysters in the same pot because the ones in the middle may not get fully cooked. Discard any oysters that do not open during cooking).
  • In a steamer: Add oysters to water that is already steaming and cook live oysters for another 4-9 minutes.

Shucked Oysters:

  • Boil or simmer shucked oysters for at least 3 minutes or until the edges curl.
  • Fry at 375 degrees for at least 3 minutes.
  • Broil 3 inches from heat for 3 minutes.
  • Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes.

 

Page Last Updated: 11/26/2014
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