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Apr 14, 2012 01:22 AM

Eating Raw Oysters, Is it safe?

I hear raw oysters are really good for us and I'd like to start eating them, but am hesitant because of all the fear propaganda out there about bacterial infections. I would like to know if anyone has gotten sick from eating raw oysters, or if anyone has had no problems eating them all their lives. Also, has anyone tried freezing them first to kill off all the bacteria, then eating them right after defrosting? I hear that's how fish is prepared for sushi.

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  1. Assuming you are a normal, healthy adult with no immune-system disorders, it should be no issue whatsoever for you to eat oysters -- but --

    1) Make sure they are in season. In North America (where I think you're located) oysters are considered in season during months that have an "r" in them (so they're out of season May through the end of August) -- two reasons -- first, summer is the spawning season, and the oysters are generally leaner and don't taste very good, and second, the warmer waters of summer are perfect to encourage any bacterial growth in the water and therefore in the oysters themselves.

    2) Make sure they're crazy fresh. As in, on the coast, or in a major city where the logistics connections mean that they are on the table within a day or two of harvest. Better yet, plan a trip to the coast and try them close to the port.

    3) For heaven's sake, don't freeze them -- freezing destroys the cell walls, leaving you with leaky mush. You can use frozen oysters in a cooked dish if you have no other alternatives, but you'll wreck 'em if you freeze them to eat raw.

    4) I don't think there's any reason why raw is substantially better for you than cooked. Oysters are tasty and nutritious, whether they're cooked or not.

    5) If you're using "good for you" as a euphemism for "makes you horny" or "is a natural Viagra"? Baloney. If it were true, oysters would have been extinct a long time ago.

    I've been eating raw oysters cooked and raw for most of my life. I have been mindbendingly, horrendously sick from oysters twice -- so I am now **extremely** discriminating about when and I where I eat raw oysters, but it hasn't turned me of of them.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      po' boy

      cooked, but extremely addictive anyway

      'nuff said

    2. In fact, I'd be willing to say that you're more likely to die in a car accident today than you are to get sick from eating a raw oyster at a restaurant.

      They're safe to eat.

      But if you're that concerned about it getting sick from raw oysters, just order them steamed...

      7 Replies
      1. re: deet13

        Please, please tell me 'they' don't really freeze fish for sushi where you're from!
        I've eaten loads of oysters and never been sick. You do have to be careful with shellfish though, and the best safeguard is opening them yourself, or having them shucked in front of you.
        If they smell at all 'off', don't eat them! They should smell briny and tangy, but NEVER dodgy.
        I wouldn't eat oysters just because they were good for me, but I'd definitely eat them because they were delicious.

        1. re: pippimac

          they freeze fish for sushi darned near everywhere as an easy and efficient way to kill parasites and lengthen shelf life-- it's flash-frozen on the boats as it's harvested with the help of liquid nitrogen, which is different than freezing in your home freezer. It freezes in a flash (!) and because of this, it tends to not create the same cell-wall destruction in fish as in your home freezer, even when it thaws.

          Frozen oysters are nasty no matter what.

          I realize that Wiki isn't the all-omnipotent authority, but this discussion is short and sweet enough for this topic:

          1. re: sunshine842

            Maybe the whopping great moat around my tiny islands makes for a different fish-freezing paradigm! As far as I know, if fish has been frozen here, it's advertised as such.

            1. re: pippimac

              If it is commercially caught and distributed through the commercial food distribution chain, chances are it's been flash-frozen.

              1. re: pippimac

                Where are you located? (your "tiny islands") Just curious.

                In the US, FDA regulations (1999) state this:

                "3-402.11 Parasite Destruction.*

                (A) Except as specified in ¶ (B) of this section, before service or sale in ready-to-eat form, raw, raw-marinated, partially cooked, or marinated-partially cooked fish other than molluscan shellfish shall be frozen throughout to a temperature of:

                (1) -20°C (-4°F) or below for 168 hours (7 days) in a freezer; or

                (2) -35°C (-31°F) or below for 15 hours in a blast freezer.

                (B) If the fish are tuna of the species Thunnus alalunga, Thunnus albacares (Yellowfin tuna), Thunnus atlanticus, Thunnus maccoyii (Bluefin tuna, Southern), Thunnus obesus (Bigeye tuna), or Thunnus thynnus (Bluefin tuna, Northern), the fish may be served or sold in a raw, raw-marinated, or
                partially cooked ready-to-eat form without freezing as specified under ¶ (A) of this section."


                The updated 2005 regulations say pretty much the same thing, but with expanded statements:
       (see Section 3-402.11)

                A couple other links of interest (there are many others):

                Of course, what you choose to do as an individual may not be what a commercial establishment would need to do to comply with FDA regulations. :-)

                BTW that chapter in the FDA regulations also say a lot a stuff about other stuff, including molluscs (e.g. oysters).

            2. re: pippimac

              Salmon MUST be frozen prior to consuming as sushi. I alway ask server if salmon they serve as sushi has been frozen. It's done to kill parasites.

          2. Oysters are good.

            Go to a restaurant that is known for serving them; tell them you want to try some for the first time; I'm certain they will be happy to help you.

            Get them from a reputable fishmongers, let him pick them for you; if it's a good fishmonger, they can even open them and prepare a platter "to go".

            It can happen that some oysters you buy have gone bad, but it is usually _very_ easy to know they are bad, they will stink. (in a restaurant, you should not get bad ones, they will be discarded when they are opened).

            There are oysters available all year long, as long as you get them from a good source you will be ok.

            Don't freeze them.

            22 Replies
            1. re: Maximilien

              My wife used to dislike oysters but she came from a part of the country where fresh oysters were as plentiful as unicorns so she had only tried those terrible canned/smoked ones. Once we had to take refuge from a week long wicked summer storm up the BC coast. We were in a tiny cove fed by a fresh water stream barely big enough for our boat. After about a week we were out of fresh food. Even in the cove the water was too rough to go ashore. As the storm let up she went for a row in the tender and came back with a pail full of oysters she had picked off the rocks. Now she loves fresh oysters. There is nothing as delicious as a wild oyster. Well, almost nothing. The cove was not named on the charts. We named it 'Pearl Cove' because we found a number of small irregular pearls in the oysters.

                1. re: Puffin3

                  Oysters don't cling to rocks. Did you mean mussels?

                  1. re: joynuggets

                    Don't they cling to lots of things (including rocks)as they are sessile i.e. They don't move

                    1. re: joynuggets

                      no, they don't cling. They glue themselves.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        Semantics - I think cling would appear to mean attached, and I think we both agree they attach. I am pretty certain Mussels also don't have little arms to help them cling to the rocks......

                        1. re: PhilD

                          of course it is.
                          Apparently I overshot "subtlety"

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            Apologies - early morning pre-coffee response.

                      2. re: joynuggets

                        Farmed oysters may not cling to rocks but wild ones certainly do. I take a paint scraper with me when I collect oysters to pry those buggers off the rocks.

                        1. re: Bkeats

                          and farmed oysters would most assuredly glue themselves to a rock if they weren't confined to a pen...

                    2. re: Maximilien

                      Maximilien, your advice is great as long as the OP is in Paris. But since the OP doesn't state, those rules may not apply.

                      Fishmongers in many parts of the world won't open the oysters for you, nor will they prepare a platter to go -- not even the best fishmonger in the city, as there are some places in which it would be in violation of health codes (it may also be in violation of retail codes, as it crosses the line between "ingredient" and "meal")

                      In the US, oysters are not in season in months that do not have an 'r' in them -- leaving only oysters flown in from somewhere else, which would not be fresh enough to bother with.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        The "months with 'R' in 'em" rule is pretty much a thing of the past in most of the US. Cold water oysters from both coasts are available, and quite tasty, year round. Refrigeration and transportation improvements, as well as the care that goes into the oyster "farming" practices, have basically eviscerated it. Oysters are delivered a day or two out of the water nationwide resulting in the fact that they are certainly fresh enough to enjoy. In fact, one of the true pleasures of oyster eating is being able to sample oysters from different parts of the country, as well as Canada, on the same plate.

                        1. re: MGZ

                          This is true, I have heard many, many times and for a long while that the "r" rule no longer applies. I have had raw oysters in every month of the year, and never gotten sick. But, I only get them at restaurants I really trust - not only because a bad oyster could make me sick, but because I want the best tasting oysters I can get. I agree that getting multiple types from different locales on one plate to try is one of my favorite culinary experiences.

                          1. re: centralpadiner

                            Getting anything raw is probably always best done from one you trust. Your post somehow reminded me of this site: Pretty insane stuff available, including plenty of oysters, if anyone's ever looking for a splurge.

                          2. re: MGZ

                            but it doesn't fix the problem with the spawning timeframe...thanks, but I'll skip them in the summer.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              In a place as vast as North America, and with the aquaculture techniques generally employed, there is no single spawning timeframe. Simply put, high quality oysters are available all year. You should, by all means, eat what you're comfortable with and enjoy seasonally. Local summer shellfish for us means littlenecks and lobsters. I just don't think it's fair to someone who has limited experience with oysters not to point out the truth about what they may find on the market.

                              1. re: MGZ

                                The FDA agrees:

                                Each year millions of Americans enjoy eating raw oysters. However, some people with certain medical conditions are at high risk for becoming seriously ill and dying from eating raw oysters. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advising these high-risk individuals not to eat raw oysters, and to only eat oysters that have been thoroughly cooked.
                                The Cause: Vibrio vulnificus

                                Vibrio vulnificus (V. vulnificus) is a bacterium that occurs naturally in warm coastal areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico. Vibrio vulnificus is found in higher concentrations in the summer months as water becomes warmer.

                                Oysters feed by filtering water-surrounding areas where vibrios may thrive and as a result concentrate V. vulnificus in their tissues. When a person eats these shellfish raw or undercooked, the bacteria enter the digestive tract and multiply rapidly. In addition to ingestion, high-risk individuals can become infected when cuts, burns or sores come in contact with seawater containing V. vulnificus.

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  Per your post, the FDA agrees that oysters from warm waters such as the Gulf of Mexico should be avoided during the summer. That describes a decided minority of oysters harvested in the US. On the West Coast, source of oysters from Northern California north through the PNW and on up to BC, the Pacific is a cold-water environment all year round, and oysters produced here are not a risk to eat raw in any given months.

                                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                    Even oysters from the Delaware Bay region are fine anytime. I had 2 dozen Cape May Salts back in June at The Lobster House on Cape May (which harvests them from their own oyster beds nearby) last year which were some of the best oysters I have eaten.

                                    1. re: huiray

                                      When we vacationed on the Eastern Shore of MD, we spent a day with a 5th generation oyster man. He said the "r" rule was hog wash, that locals consume oysters all year round.

                          3. re: sunshine842

                            In the US, oysters are not in season in months that do not have an 'r' in them -- leaving only oysters flown in from somewhere else, which would not be fresh enough to bother with.


                            this is old school advice. farming, harvesting and shipping methods are vastly superior to even a decade ago and fresh delicious oysters can be had all year.

                            they do spawn in summer, so can be slightly more flaccid, but oysters from cold waters remain delicious. can't stomach a gulf oyster but can eat a pile of about anything else.

                            to the op: i have gotten food poisoning once from cheese and once from cilantro. never from oysters and i have eaten a gajillion of them over the years.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              I realize I am jumping in on a two year old conversation... but I have really picked up on a difference in flavor and texture in the same type of Oyster eaten now in August than when I have them in cooler months. Cape May salts taste cleaner, sweeter, less briny and aren't so (I hate to use this term but it works here) "flabby" in winter time as they are in the middle of the summer.

                              I just resolved myself this weekend after two of the 6 that I ordered just didn't taste as good to me, that I would wait until at least November for the water to get cold before I eat them again.

                              As was said, it makes sense that the flavor changes. the 'life' of the water in the Delaware Bay would be vastly different in cold weather as it is in warm weather... as the water changes, the flavor of the oysters in that water, stand to reason, would change as well

                          4. Go for it.. I just downed a dozen on Tuesday. Don't get $1 oysters at some random bar during happy hour.

                            Go somewhere that has a proper raw bar, where they'll shuck to order. Know where the oysters are from - if they don't, don't bother ordering. I prefer oysters from the colder waters - e.g. north of Cape Cod on the East Coast. I've never really had a good Gulf oyster. They should be served on the half shell with liquid from the oyster still in the shell. The oyster belly shouldn't be pierced during shucking. Just spoon on a bit of mignonette sauce and slurp 'em down..

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: grant.cook

                              the best oysters I've ever had was standing up to my knees in mud in some isolated Carolina bayou shucking oysters with a screwdriver and eating them with nothing but saltwater.

                              Can't get fresher than that.

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                Sunshine, will you be my calendar girl?

                                1. re: Veggo

                                  *disclaimer* -- I can only WISH I still had that body... But sure ;)

                            2. Certainly no more dangerous than, say, living on earth.