US: Southeastern N.C. seafood merchants react to FDA's proposed oyster regulations
Posted: October 24th, 2009 - 3:50pm
Source: Star News Online
Is it Big Brother getting in the way of a person's right to shuck, or a necessary response to a well-known and potentially deadly food-safety problem in raw oysters?
This week the federal Food and Drug Administration stunned the nation's shellfishing industry by announcing plans to adopt new regulations in spring 2011 requiring post-production processing for oysters taken from the Gulf of Mexico during summer months.
Federal regulators said new techniques, such as quick freezing or low-dose irradiation, would allow the safe treatment of the vibrio vulnificus bacteria while retaining the taste and texture that has made oysters on the half-shell a popular staple for many people.
Vibrio is found naturally in warm coastal waters, and levels of the bacteria increase during the summer months before dying off when the weather and water temperatures turn cold.
Although there haven't been any known deaths in North Carolina from state-harvested oysters, the bacteria can be extremely dangerous for people with diabetes, liver disease, cancer or stomach disorders – and is generally fatal 50 percent of the time when the pathogen reaches the bloodstream.
Heat destroys the bacteria, so there's no threat from cooked or steamed oysters.
But officials and dealers are skeptical that consumers will find a dead oyster just as alluring as the live raw mollusk. Some also have said they fear people won't differentiate between a “summer” and “winter” raw oyster and just stay away from the mollusk entirely, decimating a lucrative market and industry.
Brett Blackburn, one of the owners of Blackburn Brothers Seafood Distributors, grew up in Southeastern North Carolina, so he knows you should only eat local oysters when the weather and water temperatures cool down.