When you think of summer, I am sure the last thing on your mind is food poisoning. With the rise in temperatures, we see a rise in ocean temperatures. This means bacteria, like Vibrio for instance, that flourish in warm waters are doing what they do best, growing high in numbers. Unfortunately for shellfish aficionados, this means one of our favorite shellfish is now a concern for severe food poisoning and even worse long-term complications. Oysters are now a real worry, as are their other molluscan counterparts. As a Vibrio Lawyer, I am seeing a rise in the number of people developing serious Vibrio infections.
Like oysters, Vibrio bacteria grow in warm, brackish, saltwater environments – as they need salt to survive and grow. Molluscan shellfish (like oysters, clams, mussels, and cockles) are especially prone to hosting Vibrio bacteria because they both live in the same type of environment. In the past, infections from eating raw oysters were rare, but as global warming ramps up, we are seeing more and more illnesses.
What is Vibrio?
Vibrio is a bacterium that lives naturally in salty waters, like the ocean. As the bacteria do not alter the taste, smell, or appearance of an oyster, it is difficult to tell if an oyster you are eating raw is safe. This is why cooking shellfish is highly recommended.
The onset of symptoms from a Vibrio infection can begin to show within about a day after eating a contaminated food. Someone with Vibriosis (the infection caused by Vibrio bacteria) may exhibit:
- watery diarrhea
- abdominal cramping
- fever and chills
In severe cases or for those with compromised immune systems, an infected person can develop a severe rash and swelling of the limbs. This could mean they have developed a blood infection or that the bacteria have become invasive. This is what the media calls “flesh eating bacteria” – which can lead to necrosis fasciitis (or the death of tissue).
This is why urgent and immediate medical attention is recommended for anyone who has become sick after eating any raw shellfish. Early medical attention can help reduce the likelihood of long-term complications.
How to Stay Safe
The good news is that Vibrio infections, as well as most food poisoning, is preventable. The first and best recommendation is not to eat shellfish raw.
Here are some cooking tips for those who love oysters and want to enjoy them safely.
- Before cooking, throw out any shellfish with open shells
- If shucked, you can:
o Boil for three minutes or until their edges curl;
o Fry for three minutes at a temperature of at least 375 degrees Fahrenheit;
o Broil about 3 inches from the heat source for 3 minutes; or
o Bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes
- If in the shell, you can:
o Boil until the shells open (then continue to boil for 3-5 minutes)
o Steam until the shells open (then continue to steam for 4-9 minutes)
o Either way, throw out any shellfish whose shells did not open during the cooking process
As always, it is a good idea to wash your hands and sanitize any areas that have been exposed to the oysters.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Make Food Safe for their insight into food poisoning claims.