Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > New Orleans >
Mar 28, 2002 01:02 PM

Safety of raw oysters etc.

  • n

Here's a question from timid Californians(!): My wife has expressed concern about the safety of eating raw shellfish--oysters and the like (yes we eat sushi, don't ask for rationality here, though I did once get food poisoning from it!). So we don't miss out on the experience when we come there in a few days--is there a way to tell the good oysters from the bad and the ugly, healthwise? Something we should be watching for? Thanks.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I'd hate to try to tell you how to judge an oyster by color...I can do it but don't know how to describe it. A good shucker can tell you, though, and it is in his interest to discard anything suspicious--like mushroom picking "when in doubt, throw it out."

    They have been running very good lately; weather has been cold enough to plump them up. the real problem in in summer when the virus grows in the water and the oysters pick it up as it filters. even so, a good bed can give decent oysters in July--but the things don't taste as good so I avoid the summer months anyway.

    One thing you can do is, once you know what they should taste like, if you are even slightly skeptical about the flavor of one, spit it out.

    Uglesich has been having the best lately. A friend ate some a month or so ago and said they were the bet he's had.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Hazelhurst

      I'm not an expert but I've eaten oysters from Boston (Union Oyster House) to Marina del Rey and I can tell you one thing: when you get a "bad" oyster, YOU WILL KNOW IT!!). You can't help but spit it out. Now, I'm going out on a limb here, but I don't think you can get a bad (bacterioloicly speaking) oyster at any respected establishment in NO if that's your concern. My recommendation: have a few at the Acme, cross over the street to Felix's and have a few more, relax and stop worrying about it. I think you'll be ok.
      Have fun,

      1. re: Sony Bob

        What you refer to as a "bad" oyster (i.e., one that is, shall we say, "past its prime") is far different than one that is carrying a pathogen. That oysters eaten on the halfshell MUST be alive when consumed goes without saying!

        1. re: Creole
          Marc Louargand

          Yes, but most Americans don't know that they are supposed to be alive. One New Year's Eve, my wife and I spent the day with my restauranteur cousin in Paris. He made a big deal of using the lemon to test every one of the several dozen oysters we had that evening. Ranging from Brittany to the Med, we had virtually every type available in France. He carefully set aside the non-reactive (dead) oysters as "bad".

          At the end of the meal, he very carefully picked up every one of the "bad" oysters and swallowed them happily. Perhaps it was the case of Krug Champagne we'd worked through that afternoon and evening.

          Eat what you want. Life is too short to hide from bugs.


          PS. Poor Alain proved that dictum himself, succumbing to a brain infection picked up in India before he was 45.

        2. re: Sony Bob

          My sister-in-law and I got really sick from the oysters at Felix's one night in November. A third person in our party had no problems, so we were thinking the two of us each got just one bad one. They tasted great; there's no way we could have known. And then, about six hours later, ooh baby, were we sick!

      2. First, it is bacteria (Vibrio vulnificus), not a virus, which may contaminate oysters from the Gulf Coast, especially during the warmer months of April through October. Also, contrary to old wives' tales espoused here and elsewhere, Vibrio vulnificus does not alter the appearance, taste, or odor of oysters, and it is impossible to determine a contaminated oyster without laboratory testing. Although the bacteria can cause severe illness and even death, only those individuals with weakened or compromised immune systems (e.g., people with cancer, AIDS, etc.), chronic liver disease, or the very elderly are usually susceptible to Vibrio vulnificus infections. In the last 15 or so years, the Center for Disease Control has had only about 500 reported Vibrio vulnificus infections with a mortality rate of almost 50% in the reported cases of bloodstream infection (it can also cause an infection of the skin when open wounds are exposed to contaminated, warm seawater which may lead to skin breakdown and ulceration). NOTE: it is suspected that it may be a very underreported infection. If you do the math (millions of people eating untold millions of Gulf oysters every year), your chances of becoming infected are pretty minuscule and the chance approaches zero for healthy individuals (about the same odds as dying from a meteor shower). If you are still concerned, the bacteria are killed by heat, so oysters that are cooked are as safe as commercially prepared food comes (but "lightly prepared" oysters, such as Oysters Rockefeller, may still pose a health risk to those high-risk individuals mentioned above). It should be remembered that all foods of animal origin pose some risk when eaten raw.

        Vibrio vulnificus infections can cause fever, chills and sometimes abdominal pain, generally within 24 hours of eating contaminated shellfish. Death can occur within two to three days. Vibrio vulnificus naturally inhabits estuaries and marine environments and is not associated with environmental pollution.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Creole
          Michele Cindy

          I don't eat any oysters from the Gulf Coast. I ask where my oysters come from, and if they don't know I won't order them. But, I do have one young health friend who ended up in the hospital with hepatitis after eating oysters while in New Orleans on a business trip.

          1. re: Michele Cindy

            Oysters (from the Gulf Coast or anywhere else) can be harvested legally only from waters free from fecal contamination. Legitimate seafood purveyors are very conscientious about this and know where their oysters are harvested. Although there is a very, very miniscute chance that your friend contracted hepatitis from a oyster, it is much more likely that an infected food service worker who failed to use proper hygiene was the source of the hepatitis.

            If you fear disease from Gulf Coast oysters and you are otherwise a healthy individual, you must be terrified to ride in an automobile or even to venture outside. Your fear is irrational, but, hey, more for me!

            1. re: Creole

              Here is some info that generally supports the idea that contamination is more likely introduced by food handlers than food source. In that way even frozen strawberries and glazed donuts can be a threat.

              As creole pointed out, commercial producers are very consciencious, since a single outbreak traced to them could put them out of business. Whereas, minimum wage food handlers, found everywhere, are much less focused on the potential issue. Familiar signs seen every where: "employees much wash hands before returning to work" not withstanding.


          2. re: Creole

            Oops--you are right, of course. As McCoy might not say, "I'm a cook, not a doctor!"

            well, virus, bacterium--I guess it is of importance to the physician: the patient only knows he feels awful

          3. Or try this: rent a car and drive downstream (rte. 39 to Pointe a la Hache-ferry across-rte. 23 to Empire) and get into roadside eateries along the access canal. You're now in Plaquemines parish, home of some of the finest 'sters I've ever slurped; thick as a pillow, proper firmness, and so fresh they're tryin' to walk off the plate...Some may judge this a bit much, but the search for the perfect 'ster has never been better rewarded in my experience.

            6 Replies
            1. re: bruce

              So where do I go to get a sack?

              I may have a couple of trips to Pierre Part and Pointe aux Chenes, do you know a place around there where I can pick up a sack, or should I go further south (I doubt Pierre Part would have oysters, but I may get some good crawfish there).

              1. re: Nazerac

                from Pierre Part, go down to Morgan City, then up towards New Iberia. turn onto the road for Delcambre and proceed to Abbeville. Go to Black's Oyster Bar (across from the church). It will require about 90 minutes of travel from Pierre Part but it is well worth the trip. Might as well do it while you are "in the neighborhood."

                1. re: Hazelhurst

                  I ecstatically remember a crawdad roadhouse in New Iberia (bugs and/or crabs). Think it was located along rte. 647 (Adm. Doyle Dr.)--Midnight Star (?) or some "heavenly" reference like that..does this ring any bells? Couldn't have been any simpler: tables, paper towels, and a sink to hose-off in afterwards. AND, their boil was loaded w/ the residual pepper mash from Avery Island...un-flippin'-believeable!!

                  1. re: bruce

                    there was a place on the "other" side of HWY 90--towards Avery Idland--that used the mash as you describe but I am not sure about one on Adm. Doyle. Is the joint in New Iberia? I have a perfect source to consult if you can give me a little more detail.

                    You are dead-on about those Plaquemines Parish oysters. Lately the really good ones have been out of Lake Borne but reports from Vermillion have been encouraging. After Easter, when the Family Thing dies down, it might be worth running over there.

                    1. re: Hazelhurst

                      I believe we're speaking of the same one--not being local to La., my road memories may well be suspect. Remember comin' into N. Iberia (S. to N.) on 90, and there was need to cross road to get to the shack - tho' whether that was right off or after circlin' around a while (I will hover lookin' for eats) is unclear. Re: Plaq. Par. 'sters--it's either in Buras or (most likely) Triumph that there's a place along the canal/bayou (east of the "big" road) run by a Russian guy that IS worth the trip...but then any place 'round there is probably servin' the same fine 'sters. Slurp on.

                2. re: Nazerac

                  I was referring to Plaquemines PARISH, not Plaquemine (the town), which is UPstream of NO. There're plenty of good mudbugs (ditch crickets?) available along Belle River area, just so. of Pierre Part. Suck on.

              2. Drink vodka or champagne with your oysters. I read somewhere that they have a sanitizing effect, but beer is insufficiently alcoholic.

                1. c

                  I haven't had any problems with raw oysters since moving to N.O. five years ago, but if you still want to enjoy oysters without the worry, go to Drago's (18th St. in the Fat City section of Metairie) for the charbroiled oysters. Grilled in the shells with butter & garlic. I had some last Friday and you just can't stop eating them.