FDA To Ban Sale Of Raw Oysters From Gulf Of Mexico

7773_maycoverWell, here comes another topic of conversation—the FDA will ban the sale of raw oysters harvested in the Gulf of Mexico during the summer months starting in 2011. Under the new guidelines, oysters pulled from the Gulf after the summer of 2011 will have to be “pasteurized” (heated with mild heat to kill bacteria) before they are sold (Gold Band Oysters). Louisiana is way ahead of Texas on this front.

Hmm. About 15 people a year die from eating raw oysters infected with Vibrio vulnificus and most of those people had existing conditions such as AIDS, hepatitis, cancer, cirrhosis, diabetes, or kidney disease. It sounds like an easy solution—stay away from summertime oysters if you have any of these conditions, but many people are infected with these life-threatening illnesses and don’t know it until they come in contact with a bad oyster.

In 2003, two people died from eating raw oysters at Rockfish in Dallas. Photographer Nan Coulter and I traveled to the Texas coast and poked around oyster processing plants and talked to fishermen. You can read the whole story here. We talked to people in the seafood industry on both sides of the “pasteurization” argument. The only fact they agreed upon was that anti-bacterial procedures are expensive. No doubt, the Texas seafood industry, which supplies about two-thirds of the oysters to the U. S. market, will feel wronged.

Processing plant near Texas City.
Processing plant near Texas City. (Nan Coulter)

Buried at the bottom of this Associated Press report:

Anita Grove, executive director of the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce in Florida, said a ban would be crushing. She said oyster harvesters, shuckers, truckers and dealers are “the backbone to our economy. It’s always been that way.”

Yes Anita, it has been that way for a long time. But I’d like to see the identification documents of most of the harvesters, shuckers, and dealers I met in Texas. Most of them were Vietnamese, couldn’t speak English, and they ran from our cameras. I’d also like to see more enforcement of the regulations designed to control where those harvesters are allowed to pull their catch—so many break the rules and fish in closed polluted waters and haul them back to shore on unrefrigerated boats.


  • Peterk

    “I’d also like to see more regulation on where those harvesters actually pull their catch—so many break the rules and fish in closed polluted waters and haul them back to shore on unrefrigerated boats.”

    if there are already rules and regulations in place concerning where they fish and how they transport then we don’t need more regulations, BUT rather we need better enforcement of those regulations

  • Thanks, Peter. (Any winter birds yet?)

  • Another case where “local” doesn’t necessarily mean “safer”. Peanut anyone?

  • PotNet

    The people who eat Texas oysters are probably too drunk to notice if they’re pasteurized.

  • Rawlins Nichol-Plated

    Oh for the good old days…. when the raw sewage (among other toxins) sweeping gulf-bound via feeder streams into the gulf oyster beds… made any concerns regarding eating those oysters merely a good shot at contracting incurable hepatitis A.

  • DallasDude

    Chalk up another oyster related illness. I just got sick reading this. So those 25 cents oyster Tuesdays at Seafood Shack are gone for me.

  • buzsurf

    Love, love oysters on the half shell. Parents took me to Vehon’s when I was a kid and I’ve been addicted ever since.

    Still love them, but only every once and a while. Gave up Gulf oysters, prefer PEI (apparently I trust Canadians).

  • mark

    So,does a fried pasturized oyster taste cloase to a fresh one?

    I never liked eating oysters in the summertime anyways.

    No way I’m eating frozen oyster on the half shell.

  • Wm. B. Travis

    When I was last in Vancouver, I ate at the Fish House in Stanley Park. Relating the oysters to our Gulf oysters, the waiter questioned “You eat those?” Tant mieux.

  • Cody

    My 84 year old grandmother, taught me the old adage don’t eat oysters in a month with out an “R” in it. So the summer months are out.

  • DarnellErwinFletcher

    Who would eat gulf oysters anyways?

  • Annie

    Some of y’all trashing gulf oysters are missing out on something great just by being snobs. Gulf oysters are great – I don’t eat them in warm months, but if you’re healthy, there’s no danger in eating raw gulf oysters in cooler months. Or at least no more danger than there is in eating fast food beef or restaurant chicken. More people die from salmonella and e.coli each year than they do from gulf oysters. Personally I think these regulations are stupid – too much like a nanny state.