FDA vs. fresh oysters

by Walter Olson on October 28, 2009

Remember how the food safety crackdown was going to be a win-win affair for all of us, with only the sinister interests of Big Food having anything real to lose? New Orleans Times-Picayune:

In an effort to reduce cases of a rare, but potentially fatal, bacterial illness contracted from raw oysters, the FDA announced new rules this month that will require any oyster served from April through October to undergo a sterilization process before it can be sold in restaurants or on the market.

The rule will essentially eliminate raw oysters — at least as Louisianans know them — from restaurant menus for seven months of the year. Even oysters that will eventually be cooked during those months would have to go through the same cleansing process before being added to any dish, a move some say would undermine the culinary integrity of some of New Orleans’ most famous delicacies. …

C.J. Casamento, the owner of Casamento’s restaurant on Magazine Street, said many chefs have tried the sterilized oysters in the past but have stopped because the flavor isn’t the same. … “If they try to implement this, it will destroy all the raw oyster restaurants in the city.”

Another restaurant owner, Tommy Cvitanovich of Drago’s, called the rules “ludicrous”, pointing out that they will also require sterilization of oysters destined for cooked use in gumbos, broils and po’ boys. Processor Mike Voisin compared the new guidelines to a “nuclear bomb” on the oyster business. And Louisiana state health officials, as well as fisheries officials, have assailed the new rules as going too far.

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1 Doug 10.28.09 at 9:27 am

I would ask everyone to “please think of the children”, but that phrase has been used far too often to justify such onerous and stupid regulation.

2 Bob Lipton 10.28.09 at 10:32 am

If you’re worried, don’t give your children fresh oysters.

Oh, right. I forgot: people are too stupid to make those decisions.

Bob

3 Doug 10.28.09 at 10:52 am

And apparently adults are too stupid to understand the risk, such as it is.

4 kimsch 10.28.09 at 1:34 pm

Hasn’t there always been a “rule” to only eat oysters in months with an “R”?

5 VMS 10.28.09 at 2:29 pm

The FDA is concerned with an organism called Vibrio vulnificus which can cause disease in individuals who eat raw oysters or have an open wound that is exposed to seawater. Among healthy people, ingestion of V. vulnificus can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain which can be severe. In otherwise healthy individuals, V. vulnificus infections are acute and have no long-term consequences (including death).

Most [raw] oyster-eaters know this, and they also know the age old adage: “Don’t eat [raw] oysters in months that don’t have an “R” in them. (The FDA, in their infinite wisdom, tacks another 3 months: April, September and October onto this time.) Nonetheless, many are willing to take the slight risk of getting sick to enjoy a favorite food. [The two people I know who have had this condition no longer eat raw oysters in the summer months].

The problem arises in immunocompromised persons, particularly those with chronic liver disease. In these individuals, the bacteria can invade the bloodstream from the GI tract resulting in primary septicemia, a life-threatening illness with a fatality rate approaching 50%.

Those with AIDS, hepatitis, organ transplants and other immunocompromised individuals know who they are, and should know the extreme dangers of eating raw oysters. Fixing a problem for a minority of the population by banning the product is not defensible.
What’s next, precluding bathers and swimmers from entereing the gulf waters in the summer months?

6 Walter Olson 10.28.09 at 2:50 pm

VMS>What’s next, precluding bathers and swimmers from entering the gulf waters in the summer months?

Please don’t give them any ideas.

7 W. Rogers Turner, Jr./Tulane '88 10.28.09 at 2:57 pm

Enough Tabasco and Dixie Beer shoud kill anything the Oyster might harbor…

8 Bumper 10.29.09 at 12:14 am

“On average, there are about 30 cases of vibrio vulnificus each year traced to consumption of raw Gulf Coast oysters. Of those 15 are fatal.*

Times Picaynue 10/18/09

*Possibly the little snot rockets from else where are not as safe as the ones harvested from the Gulf, and since they are not as tasty either why bother with them.

Tonight across America more people will die from automobile accidents than all year from oysters. Probably that many in Detroit from gunshots during the month.

If, in fact, eating raw oysters were as dangerous as the FDA nannies would have you believe then the streets and ERs of New Orleans would be littered with the bodies of the fallen. They are not and never have been.

W. Rogers Turner, Jr./Tulane ’88 is also correct Tabasco has been shown to kill the little buggers, but alas Dixie is no more, Abita reigns.

Somewhere, sometime this sh*t has got to stop, lest we as a nation become like the other English speaking nannie states of Less than Great Britain.

9 R 10.29.09 at 2:43 pm

Hasn’t there always been a “rule” to only eat oysters in months with an “R”?

In other words, not during the summer? (May, June, July, August)

10 kimsch 10.29.09 at 7:44 pm

R – yep.

11 Bumper 10.30.09 at 2:48 am

Rules are for sissies.

There might have been a “rule” before refrigeration, but not in the last forty years.

12 Raw Oyster Alert 10.30.09 at 11:27 am

I am sorry if any kind of ban would crush business, however, money is not the motivating factor here for the FDA — the safety of consumers is what is priority.

It makes me so angry to continue to see news articles that talk about how horrible this is for business. What about how horrible it is for the people who get sick and die from eating UNSAFE raw oysters unknowningly?

The oyster and restaurant industry want to talk about how people should know better if they are sick. Well, the fact is … they don’t know. Actually, many people who are considered at high risk from eating raw oysters don’t even know they are at risk, such as individuals with diabetes who have not yet been diagnosed or those with liver problems that are undiagnosed. There are countless other medical conditions that people may have and don’t have any idea that there is a problem eating raw oysters.

I can tell you from personal experience — my father died from eating raw oysters 2 years ago in Louisiana. My family had no idea that eating raw oysters had the potential to kill an individual, nor did we know that he was an at risk individual — nor did he. He ate raw oysters to celebrate his birthday and ended up dying from that meal.

FDA needs to finally do something about this and the oyster and restaurant industry need to stop thinking about just the bottom line and dollars and cents and start thinking about the safety of consumers and human lives.

13 oysterboy 10.30.09 at 6:07 pm

Sign the Petition

14 Bob Lipton 10.30.09 at 6:33 pm

Let’s ban anything that ever killed anyone and be done with it.

Bob

15 Alexander Ignatiev 11.04.09 at 10:12 am

My great-uncle once removed died from the bullets of Russian communists that seized the family farm. Let’s ban Russian communists!

FFS, people- 75 more people die every year being struck by lightning. Let’s ban lightning!

16 CarLit Guy 11.04.09 at 7:25 pm

Water. you forgot the well known dangers of dihydrogen monoxide. To say nothing of the various pathogens it might be carrying…

At some point, you make your choice, you roll your dice, and you take your chances. Personally, I find it defies belief that a person in this day and age could consume raw oysters in a restaraunt in the US without first having seen (there, and likely elsewhere) multiple warnings against the practice. Banning a substance which can be safely consumed by the majority, out of concern some minority might (perhaps unwittingly) engage in risky behavior, reduces our choices to a nullity. There are those who can’t process complex protiens, nuts, wheat, and numerous other food stuffs. Those alergic to latex and certain plastics. Some for whom salt is dangerous, or sugar. To say nothing of the various contaminants present in everything, in some de minimus amount.

The only thing with a near 100% success rate we humans know is death, and even it has the occasional near miss.

Not to be insensitive, but we don’t live in a perfectly predictable world, we go through our lives with incomplete information at all times, and we knowingly take risks – some of which result in adverse consequences we may, or may not, have considered. To pretend otherwise seems deliberate ignorance.

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