- Ellen Oct 14, 2005 02:50 PM
Attached is an article about an oyster−related illness linked to ocean warmng. An outbreak of illness among cruise ship passengers in Alaska in 2004 led to the detection of disease−causing oysters about 620 miles farther north than they had ever been found before, possibly as a result of warming ocean waters.
I raise this because I always thought that oysters harvested that far north could not possibly carry the risk of disease that oysters harvested from the southern regions, including the Chesapeake Bay or the Gulf, have. It doesn't look like you can count on anything raw to be safe coming from the sea any more. Lord only knows what the pump-out of water from NOLA will do to the ecosystem and fishing industry down there over the next few years.
I tend to be a bit of a skeptic on anthropogenic global warming, but you're certainly correct that you can't count on anything raw (or cooked, for that matter, due to organic contaminants and metals) coming from the sea to be safe. I have male colleagues who specialize in these types of public health issues and who know much more about them than I do who limit themselves to one seafood meal of any kind per week. Some of them recommend that women of child-bearing age eat no more than one meal per month. I think that may be a bit of an overreaction, but an argument can be made that it's not.
The link to the article abstract was interesting - unfortunately I don't subscribe to the NE Journal, so couldn't access the full text. I did think the review of it at BMJ.com was noteworthy and that the more interesting question was why these people got sick at bacterial concentrations 3000 times below the FDA "safe" level. Something very odd there.
I don't want to skeeve you out but I've always avoided Gulf oysters just because they filter the water of the Mississippi! Didn't you ever wonder why they are so big and fat?
I like the local oysters of the South Carolina coast and just wait until they are in season. I also like the saltiness of them.
My husband got oyster death one time and still continues to eat them raw.
We buy them dirty in the half or full bushel, power wash them at the local car wash (they have baskets for just this reason), and throw them on the grill with a wet towel over them and steam them. With an ice cold beer? Heaven!
The organism is Vibrio Vulnificus (a relative of vibrio cholera, the organism that causes cholera, and my second favorite bacterial name after Borelia Burgdorferi, the spirochete that causes lyme disease). It is rare and infections occur much more commonly from swimming in ocean water than from eating oysters. The fact that a single case was reported in NEJM is testament to the rare nature of this route of infection.
Now, if you want to talk about diseases occuring from eating raw seafood, hepatitis is much more common in oyster eaters than rare cases of cellulitis from vibrio organisms. Between that and the parasites that can result from eating raw fish (including intestinal worms that have been reported to grow over 30 feet long in your intestines), an informed consumer would probably never eat raw or undercooked shellfish... except for the fact that it tastes so good and the diseases are relatively rare. I certainly never hesitate to indulge.
Working for a health department on the Gulf Coast we receive food illness reports. I always tell people that is exactly why I do not eat raw oysters. What our epi folks tell me is that while the illnesses being mentioned may be more common in warmer waters they actually can be found in salt water the world over, particularly Vibrio Vulnificus.
Of course working in public health we tend to get a bit jaded and avoid many things. Just ask my friends who tease me constantly about my aversion to many things they enjoy on a regular basis.
OK, I have to take issue with this. I understand it's scary when you hear about a new illness, but think about it:
a) You contracting a really rare form of oyster illness are probably way less than the likelihood of you getting into a car accident on your morning commute.
b) Yes, there may be more illness but generally our food supply is much safer than even our grandparents were used to. And look at them: they survived, evidenced by the fact that we're all here
I eat raw oysters despite not eating any other form of animal product (to me, they're not conscious and not factory farmed: therefore, yum). True, I only eat them from reputable restaurants that put their reputation on every plate they put out (Grand Central Oyster Bar, Blue Water Grill, Hog Island Oyster Co.) And I never eat any that smell funny. Yes, I've had food poisoning before, but never from oysters. Even if I do, I'll still keep eating them.