FDA to ban oysters during ‘warm months’

By Justin Martin

LSN STAFF WRITER

The next three months are probably the busiest time of year for the Louisiana raw oyster industry, and oyster lovers better indulge as many as they can on the half shell because the raw oysters may become harder to locate from May to October.

A new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plan to cut deaths caused by one of the deadliest types of food poisoning, which can be found in raw oysters. The the raw oyster eater, that means live U.S.-grown oysters will be harder to find in the warmer months.

The FDA would like to stop the sale of raw Gulf oysters from May to October altogether. They feel that measure would combat the deadly bacteria vibrio vulnificus. If that specific bacteria enters the blood stream, 50 percent of the time it is fatal.

But instead of stopping the sale of raw oysters during warmer months, the FDA wants all oysters harvested from the Gulf to be processed, in order to kill potentially deadly bacteria.

California first adopted a similar ban in 2003. USA Today reported that 40 people died from 1991 to 2001 in California as a result of poisoning from raw oysters. Since the ban, zero people have died, the newspaper reports,

Pat Bordes of Fezzo’s Restaurant in Crowley worries about the quality of the oysters his customers will be eating.

“With the new ban oysters will be less salty, not as fresh of a taste,” said Bordes Thursday. “The customers will suffer and not enjoy the flavor of a fresh, out of the Gulf oyster.”

Jody and Tonya Hebert are owners of Dupuy’s Oyster Shop in Abbeville. Around five years ago, the Heberts made the decision to not sell raw oysters from June to August because of the drop off in oyster quality. Dupuy’s now only sells raw oysters from September through May.

“I choose to do that just because of the quality and taste,” said Jody. “It was a tricky decision to make. We are trying to build our business on more than oysters.”

Across the Vermilion River at Shuck’s, co-owner Bert Istre said he recently heard about the possible FDA ban. His restaurant sells raw oysters all summer long. Istre said he is keeping his ears and eyes open on what the FDA plans to do. If they do ban the sale of oysters in the warm months, Istre said it will hurt his business.

The USA Today reports the FDA would require that Gulf coast oysters undergo one of four processes to kill potential bacteria:

• Quick freezing

• High pressure treatment

• Mild heat

• Low dose gamma radiation

These technologies “can largely eliminate the risk of vibrio infection while preserving the sensory qualities of raw oysters,” the USA Today reports.

The oysters will still be raw, but they won’t be alive. The techniques do cause some alteration of the texture and flavor of the oysters.

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