Oyster Lovers To FDA: Kindly STFU And Leave Our Deadly Snack Alone

Eating raw oysters from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico can and does kill people. Not a lot of people. But it does kill people. The FDA recently was forced to back off from a plan to ban these oysters pending more research into how to keep them from killing said people. Apparently, oyster lovers are a motivated bunch.

Vibrio vulnificus, (which sounds like something from a Lemony Snicket book, but which is actually the name of a bacteria that comes along for the ride in warm-water Gulf of Mexico oysters,) kills about 15 people a year. Most of the cases are people with compromised immune systems. The FDA wanted to ban the oysters while looking in to ways to process them in order to decrease the number of deaths.

The options, however, aren’t tasty. Anti-bacterial processing allegedly makes the oysters pretty much suck and is expensive.

Lest you think the FDA was being paranoid, apparently dying of Vibrio vulnificus is pretty damn awful:

As a public health agency, the FDA is committed to identifying reasonable and workable approaches to reduce unnecessary suffering and death from preventable causes. The FDA staff work every day with state and local counterparts around the country to stop outbreaks of all types of infectious disease. Illnesses from bacteria like Vibrio vulnificus are particularly important to prevent because they can cause loss of skin, kidney failure, amputations, excruciating pain, and death.

They had our attention at loss of skin.

In any case, the FDA says the concerns of the oyster-eaters as well as the economy that needs them to survive are legitimate.

The agency looks forward to working with Gulf Coast officials and industry to accomplish the goal of protecting consumers from Vibrio vulnificus in a manner that is feasible and minimizes impacts on the oyster industry.

FDA Statement on Vibrio Vulnificus in Raw Oysters [FDA]
Oyster fans force FDA to back off seasonal ban [MSNBC]
(Photo:tjean314)

Comments

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  1. Jon Parker says:

    I love raw oysters, and I’m willing to take the risk.

    • nova3930 says:

      @Jon Parker: Seriously. I’m originally from the gulf coast and I’d be damn surprised if anybody who eats raw oysters is unaware of the fact they can kill you….

    • WonderKatGoBoom says:

      @Jon Parker: I have eaten oysters for nearly all of my 27 years, and- knock on wood, cross chest- never fallen ill.
      I just ate 5 dozen-plus Saturday. It easily was one of my top 5 happiest days all year.

      I know the risks. Now where’s my other dozen?

    • coffeeculture says:

      @Jon Parker: I’m tired of the government (county health depts, FDA) going overboard with these regulations. So long as there’s ample warning about a specific product — in this case, oysters — it should be legal.

      Chinese restaurants are getting shut down over violations from their 2000 year old processes; and now you can’t even get a grilled hot dog with bacon in LA due to overzealous health departments.

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      @Jon Parker:

      Like smoking, you should be able to eat raw oysters if you think the chances of a horrific death are worth taking that risk.

      …but seriously, I can’t think of many things more gross than raw oysters. Yuck.

      • korybing says:

        @YouDidWhatNow?: Yeah exactly. Oysters are an acquired taste for the vast majority of oyster eaters, and I have yet to meet a single person who isn’t aware that raw oysters have the potential to cause illness. Same with eating raw eggs or eating undercooked meat.

  2. magic8ball says:

    Eh, just slap a label on ‘em. “Warning: consuming this oyster may cause loss of skin, kidney failure, amputations, excruciating pain, and death.” If people want to eat them badly enough to ignore that possibility, you’d have trouble regulating them anyway.

    • ubermex says:

      @magic8ball: They already have these MASSIVE signs all over the menus at every place that sells these. The risks are very well publicized.

      • The Porkchop Express says:

        @ubermex: I see tons of signs everywhere about the risk in eating these. you can also get Hepititis from them I guess.

      • howie_in_az says:

        @ubermex: Menus?!? There are warnings about eating paint.

      • dpeters11 says:

        @ubermex: Most menus I’ve seen just say something to the effect of “adverse reactions.” They skip the details about the pain, death etc.

        • 2 replies says:

          @dpeters11: Most if not all menus with raw fish & meat (hell, even steakhouses have them for steak) say something to the effect of
          “consuming raw or undercooked food may increase susceptibility to food-borne illness”

          • ARP says:

            @2 replies by: I think that may be a little weak. It implies typical food poisoning. It reminds me of the overly-technical language on cigs. They need to be more clear. “Eating Raw Seafood can make you sick or even kill you.”

  3. VidaBlueBalls says:

    Awwww shucks.

  4. FatLynn says:

    I think I have to go with “buyer beware” on this one. If you know you have a compromised immune system, don’t take the risk. For the rest of us…slurp, slurp.

  5. ZoeSchizzel says:

    Actually oysters are largely harvested in the bays, not the Gulf of Mexico. I love our local oysters and have many great memories of my dad shucking them for me as fast as I could eat them. I ate them in my highchair, one in each fist. But I do not eat them anymore, even in cold months. The bays are filthy and heavily polluted in a lot of areas. I just don’t feel the taste is worth the risk.

    • Snowblind says:

      @ZoeSchizzel:

      Hog Island/Tomalas Bay north of SF is 3 hrs away, 4 by scenic route through Napa.

      Nice, crispy, cucumbery!

      Oh, and sustainable, clean… forget Mexican oysters. Likely only good for BBQ, and then what is the issue?

  6. hypnotik_jello says:

    Gulf of Mexico oysters? blargh.

  7. alangryphon says:

    Wow. 15 people per year. Maybe the Feds could start by banning lightning, that kills 58 people per year, and then work their way down to less lethal risks.

    • bobloblawsblog says:

      @alangryphon: i think IDS kills more people per yr than this….

    • mac-phisto says:

      @alangryphon: yeah, no kidding. e coli is spreading into our veggies, there are massive recalls quarterly (it seems anyway) on beef & we’re worried about a dozen people getting sick from oysters.

      way to keep the focus, FDA!

    • smiling1809 says:

      @alangryphon: Texting and talking on the cell phone kill far more per year than that and those have yet to be banned. Why oysters? Don’t 5 gallon buckets kill that many kids or more per year???

      • Stephmo says:

        @smiling1809: 5 out of every 100,000 children drown in a 5 gallon bucket every year.

        [www.faqs.org]

        Clearly, the 5 gallon buckets are out to get us.

        But not as much as TYLENOL – over 450 deaths a year!

        [www.medicalnewstoday.com]

        But in reality, I’m guessing that the dry cleaning bag people are putting this news out to obscure the fact that 15 children a year die from their bags. I think that the coincidence is no coincidence!

        [findarticles.com]

    • yagisencho says:

      @alangryphon:

      Chances are good that the deaths are the tip of the pyramid, as it were. The rest of the infected eaters merely had excruciating pain and/or loss of skin.

  8. ubermex says:

    The gulf coast of North Florida really relies on oyster farming. A partial ban on raw ones only during a certain season wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would be some serious damage to a group of fisherman who already get shafted by Georgia and Alabama’s water management policies.

    • Pinget says:

      @ubermex: Yes, this is the actual point here. This ban would have put entire communities out of work. The main concern is preserving these jobs.

  9. ClutchDude says:

    Man. I was in Apalachicola, FL this past weekend and ate them in a bisque and, of course, fried in a poboy. I’d rather them be more worried about me eating too many fried oysters than raw.

    Or figure out new ways to produce them without the fear of them having these problems.

    • CyGuy says:

      @ClutchDude: I had an Oyster Po’Boy at Papa Joe’s in Apalachicola in February along with sharing a dozen and a half on the half shell with my wife. But don’t worry, the bacteria isn’t a problem in the cooler months, you’re fine if you don’t have a compromised immune system and you follow the old saw “Never eat shellfish in a month that doesn’t have an “R” in it”

      • MeCatLikesMeHamSanwich says:

        @CyGuy: There are “R”s in shell fish?

      • ClutchDude says:

        @CyGuy: Wow. Just read this.

        I meant more worried about the number of fried s than raw s. The amount of fried food we eat has got to be of more concern than raw oysters.

        BTW, I went to Boss Oyster. Definitely enjoyed them.

  10. henrygates says:

    Seems like a poor focus to me. Far more people die each year from salmonella and e coli, although the death rate for infections is much, much higher for v vulnificus. But people can easily avoid oysters if they know they have poor immune systems. On the other hand, salmonella and e coli have been turning up in EVERYTHING lately.

    • Ananelle says:

      @henrygates: Have you read fast food nation?

      If short, Salmonella and E Coli are showing up everywhere because there are basically 5 main meat processing plants and they make everything from “high grade” beef to cheap hot dogs with the same equipment. The people are highly untrained and they are fired/rewarded on the amount of meat they process, so they often put terrible rotting beef in with other meat just so they can have more meat all go at once. They fudge the cleaning books for the inspectors, and the inspectors know it. There’s a bunch more to it, but basically, the plants aren’t clean, which is why there’s so much disease in our food.

  11. FoxCMK says:

    Don’t worry, everyone; we’re from the government, and we’re here to ruin your…I mean, help!

  12. SkokieGuy says:

    If the ban goes through, maybe raw oyster lovers can console themselves with a legal cigarette.

  13. JediJohn82 says:

    Maybe they should ban cigarettes first since that kills way more people…no wait, the loss in tax revenues would bankrupt America…I guess the FDA doesn’t care about your health that much.

  14. Suaveydavey says:

    Aren’t we supposed to forgo oysters in any month that doesn’t have an r in it anyway?

  15. lacubsfan says:

    Go ahead and eat em! It’s called survival of the fittest…. natural selection…. Darwinism.

    Poison food is yummy!

    That’s 15 less idiots in the world a year :)

  16. halcyondays says:

    I’m so tired of the Nanny-State mentality of the government. Why not just mandate wearing helmets all the time? If safety is the issue, far more than 15 people die due to falling and hitting their heads each year.

  17. gerrycomo says:

    I don’t think the oysters pictured are of the “choice” category.

  18. treimel says:

    300 million people total
    deaths from oysrers: 15 people annually–most with *compromised immune systems*.

    Note to FDA: please get some training in (take your pick): epidemiology, statistics, actuarial science, heck, any science for that matter. Now find a real risk out there.

    • Coelacanth says:

      @treimel: I think your statistics are flawed. How many people in the US eat oysters in a given year?

      • treimel says:

        @Coelacanth:

        Not all of them, or even most of them, but all of them are *capable* of consuming a raw oyster–the point is, the total population is always an appropriate metric to use in that it doesn’t matter (from a global risk-asessment view) if some of the reduced risk comes from the population’s behavior.
        Moreover, there’s only one stat I really am basing my argument on: 15 people. That’s simply not a meaningful number.

  19. rosvicl says:

    I’m no fan of raw oysters (just don’t like the things), but if a risk of “loss of skin” is a reason for banning things, why are suntan parlors still legal?

  20. pinecone99 says:

    Gulf Coast oysters pretty much suck anyway.

  21. H3ion says:

    Offer an antibiotic with each oyster. The FDA must have better things to do.

  22. Xeos says:

    Raw oysters are some of my favorite food, but the best comes from the Pacific Northwest and Japan. Gulf Oysters are sort of trashy ones you need to cook anyway, its far too warm down there for good, buttery, rich oysters.

    Kumamoto oysters are less likely to kill you!

  23. ElizabethD says:

    I think Vibrio vulnificus sounds more like a spell from Hogwarts. Just sayin.

    Oh, and I adore raw oysters and also raw littlenecks (hardshell coldwater clams). It makes me sad that they can be dangerous.

  24. Quake 'n' Shake says:

    Vibrio vulnificus,…kills about 15 people a year. Most of the cases are people with compromised immune systems.

    Clearly these are people who would otherwise run up large medical expenses due tot their condition, very likely costing the taxpayers dearly. Oysters are just doing their patriotic duty.

  25. dumpsterj says:

    wait wait wait . Oysters kill 15 people a year and they want to ban them ? all they could come up to help all the thousands of people who die from smoking is to ban strawberry ciggs ? wtf ? damn greedy oyster industry !!!! (sarcasm)

  26. 2 replies says:

    Can the FDA just take the f’in stance that YES it’s a preventable cause, but that it should only take measures to INFORM, not ENFORCE.

    The sun also causes melanoma, but we shouldn’t HAVE to wear sunscreen or carry parasols or stay indoors.
    (Yes I know it’s the FDA we’re talking about and that the sun is not a foodstuff, but this is just an example.)

    We do NOT need a new law for every stupid person that burns themselves or every sickly/weak person who dies because they couldn’t handle a food-borne illness.
    The government has enough power as it is.
    (And in some cases, TOO much. …thanks W. >_< )

    I’m glad someone is telling a government agency to STFU.
    We should be able to tell other agencies the same, more often.

    (Thanks for humoring my rant)

  27. tsmiser says:

    Just eat farmed oysters. Problem solved.

  28. TehWillis says:

    Meh, keep the nanny state off of my plate.

  29. RedwoodFlyer says:

    @Jon Parker: That’s fine… as long as I’m not forced to pay for your healthcare should you get sick.

  30. ZoeSchizzel says:

    Well…if any of you folks knew what was in those bays, you might not want to eat them, no matter how good they taste. Tons of raw sewage from overdevelopment run-off, inadequate waste systems, and out-and-out direct toilet dumps from EVERY recreational vessel with a toilet hold (given that finding a dock-side waste pump station is incredibly difficult). Oysters being harvested in areas where no one would dream of swimming. I mean, would you eat beef that had been swiped across the chef’s ass before cooking? It won’t necessarily make you sick if that happened, but it’s not something anyone really wants to eat.

  31. Ronin-Democrat says:

    I’m going back to canned dog food.
    I like the way it leaves my coat shiny……

  32. meg9 says:

    Okay, I’ve never had a raw oyster because of the illness possibilities, but this seems like a fantastic place to ask:
    What does a raw oyster taste like?

  33. katia802 says:

    That’s the trick to eating raw oysters. Never never think “booger” before you slurp. They’re actually quite good, living in a completely landbound state now, I really miss the Oyster Bar in New Orleans. :+(

  34. xillip says:

    I thought it was an oyster but it’snot. Love them though.

  35. MikeHerbst says:

    And while we’re at it, lay off my unpasteurized cheese too, you bastards.

    People were making and eating cheese for hundreds of years before ole Louie came around, and for those of us who like cheese, especially the funky kind, it really does taste better.

    Stop trying to make it illegal, just slap a warning label on it so some dipstick pregnant lady (who shouldn’t be eating veined cheeses anyway) doesn’t get into it. Let the rest of us take the chance if we want to. The market has already proven that there is a comfortable niche market for artisan cheese makers to sell their unpasteurized wares.

  36. Snullbug says:

    This is called natural selection. If people are stupid enough to eat potentially bacterially contaminated oysters, let them go ahead and improve the gene pool.

  37. David in Brasil says:

    I guess that pretty much blows my idea of a caffeinated alcoholic beverage and oysters for dinner tonight…

  38. starzshine says:

    So let me get this straight… bacteria is a naturally occuring thing. There is pretty much nothing you can do about the crazy mutating bastards. Totally natural, yet we are going to worry about someone dying of it? Then there is snowboarding, surfing, etc, (which I think are all awesome) man made sports where people hurdle toward the ground at crazy speeds and this is not a problem?

    Just leave well enough alone!!!

  39. joe1512 says:

    Maybe only 15, but I’d to be one of them…

  40. trujunglist says:

    @pecan 3.14159265:

    it’s pretty popular in the southwest in general, but until recently, the only place i really saw it frequently was in mexico. now i see them on the street corners, and especially near bars so the drunk-n-hungry crowd can get their munch on.

  41. ReaveT says:

    @pecan 3.14159265: Mais oui. We cajuns eat lots of odd things. The FDA needs to leave us be – if we die by what we eat, then God bless us, maybe he just wants the recipe.

    I meant, this is the place that saw a crawfish crawling out of the mud, tossed it in a pot, and started adding pepper until it tasted good.

    Hmm, actually… that’s how we do all of our cooking.

  42. cash_da_pibble says:

    @trujunglist:
    Or at my house- where we started doing it AFTER SEEING VENDORS IN LA DO IT.

    Wow, full circle, huh?

  43. dadelus says:

    @pecan 3.14159265: I beg to differ. If those 15 people know they have a disease that compromises their immune system and continue to eat foods that are known to be risky even for folks with uncompromised immune systems then I think they qualify as idiots. Unfortunate idiots at that.

  44. mazzic1083 says:

    @pecan 3.14159265: I recall talking about a subsection of natural selection / sexual selection which talked about how being in the best shape would actually help you win in evolutionary terms.

    Of course thousands of years ago good shape meant better hunter, women were attracted to better hunters as it meant they could provide for her and her baby, thus being in good shaspe = more sexually attractive and better equipped to pass on your genes. Though we do far less hunting htese days the mind is still pre-disposed to pick out healthy and youthful mates for a better chance of procreating

  45. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    @dadelus: “Compromised immune system” doesn’t mean you have a disease. It can also refer to the fact that you’re 80 years old and old age has made you more susceptible to a common cold.

    It’s when your body’s immune system is not working at its optimal – it doesn’t mean you’ve got a disease.

    People who have a week of poor sleep potentially have a compromised immune system, a person recovering from the flu has a compromised immune system, sometimes people whose allergies are acting up can have a compromised immune system.

    Compromised immune system is not the same as an underlying condition.

  46. floraposte says:

    @ubermex: There’s a difference between “contribute to” and “are the cause of,” though.

  47. dadelus says:

    @pecan 3.14159265: Sorry, I was thinking back to this article on the subject that I read a few weeks ago.

    [www.nola.com]

    In it, they state that most folks affected have a condition such as AIDS, Kidney Disease or Alcholism.

    To be clear, I’m not picking on folks cause they have a disease of some type. I just think that if you know you have a problem of this nature and still make the decision to eat foods that are risky even for healthy folks then you are making an informed decision and the government shouldn’t have much involvement.

    All things considered, the FDAs efforts could be better focused on issues that effect larger populations.

  48. rockasocky says:

    @lacubsfan: The patient on House the other week had hemachromatosis and was going dying from the vibrio-infected oysters she ate. She was a 15 year old girl and therefore was stupid. But because she had a genius diagnostician around, she lived.

    I’m not sure where I’m going with this, I’m just surprised nobody mentioned House yet,

  49. Coelacanth says:

    @The Porkchop Express: @treimel: I certainly agree with you there, but I don’t really believe the proportion of people who eat raw oysters in the US is very high to begin with…

    Now, if it became a cultural phenomenon, depending on what that rate happens to be, those numbers could skyrocket tremendously. Perhaps nitpicking, but simply stating that by sampling your acquaintances, you know 15-16% eat raw oysters is subject to strong selection bias.

    On the otherhand, the odds of getting other catastrophes – car crashes, lightning strikes, dying from some infectious / inherited disease – are far more universal, as it’d be very, very difficult to avoid the personal risk entirely and still be a member of society.

  50. ElizabethD says:

    @floraposte:

    Oh, you got nothin on me bb. When I actually bought steak to cook at home, back in the Dark Ages, I would slice off nice little hunks of raw meat, add salt/pepper, and chomp away. YUM.