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Aww, shucks: More oyster rules coming

POSTED: November 11, 2009 9:02 a.m.
According to new rules from the Food and Drug Administration, the Gulf Coast oyster industry may soon be heating up — literally.
Michael R. Taylor, senior advisor to the FDA commissioner, announced that in an effort to cut down on illnesses caused by the vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria found in some raw oysters, starting in 2011 they will require all oysters harvested from the Gulf of Mexico from April to October to go through a mandatory post-harvesting process.
“These post-harvest processing technologies have been employed since the mid-1990s. They include individual quick freezing with frozen storage, high hydrostatic pressure, mild heat and low dose gamma irradiation,” Taylor said during a speech at a recent Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference.
“And when they are used, the bacteria are killed and reduced to non-detectable levels. The risk is very substantially reduced.”
Taylor said about 15 people die from the bacteria found in live oysters each year from April to October.
The new rule spurred debate across the nation, leaving some raw oyster lovers and vendors upset.
According to Taylor, the bacteria is found in oysters from the Gulf rather than those from Eastern and Western beds, which means that restaurants and vendors in the Liberty County region who sell local raw oysters or cooked oysters are pretty much in the clear. But not all local vendors do, however.
Simon Long, with Bobo’s Seafood in Hinesville, said he gets a significant portion of his oysters from Apalachicola, Fla., a small town on the Gulf that is on the list of places that will soon have to conform to the new standards.
Although Long is one of the few area vendors affected, he sees the move by the FDA as a good thing and a healthy practice for seafood vendors.
 “I did this already,” Long said of his routine of not selling raw oyster to customers during the warmer months. “It’s too risky. I don’t take the chance.”
Taylor said those affected usually already have compromised immunity.
“The at-risk population includes those with weakened immune systems or otherwise impaired health, including people with chronic diseases such as AIDS, cancer, kidney disease, diabetes and alcohol abuse,” he said.
Joe Maley, the oyster buyer for Sunbury Crab Company in Sunbury, said his oysters are hand-picked in local streams and that his business won’t be affected by the change. He said it’s common for oyster beds to undergo closures (although many are usually temporary), but that the oyster beds around this area are basically safe from harmful bacteria.
We’ve never had a health-related closure as far as I know, for the last 50 years,” Maley said.
According to the FDA’s release about the new mandate, the Gulf provides 67 percent of the country’s oysters, 40 percent of which are harvested in the months of the ban.
 

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