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SafetyAlerts
June 9, 1999

State Issues Warning on Raw Oysters from the Gulf Coast

SACRAMENTO, CA  (SafetyAlerts) - In response to one recent death and two illnesses linked to the consumption of raw oysters from the Gulf Coast, the California Department of Health Services (DHS) today reminded high-risk individuals not to eat raw oysters harvested from Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Mississippi and Alabama. Oysters from these states, especially those harvested during the warmer months of April through October, have been contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus, a harmful bacteria that can cause severe illness and death in susceptible individuals.

Gulf Coast oysters are distributed throughout California, especially in ethnic markets. Three Hispanic men who became ill from this product were:

  • A 49-year-old from Los Angeles County who died in May, four days after consuming raw oysters.
  • A 44-year-old from Los Angeles County who recovered after becoming ill in April.
  • A 45-year-old from Ventura County who currently is in critical condition.

Of the 46 individuals with Vibrio vulnificus infections reported to DHS from 1983 through May 1999, 31 died.

People with chronic liver disease or viral hepatitis are more susceptible to Vibrio vulnificus infections. Other people at higher risk of severe infection who should not eat raw oysters include those with cancer, AIDS or other conditions that weaken or compromise the immune system.

Oysters should be thoroughly cooked to decrease the risk of infection since heat kills the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria. Undercooked oysters, such as those that are lightly steamed, marinated or prepared as Oysters Rockefeller, may also pose a health risk.

Vibrio vulnificus infections can cause fever, chills, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. The onset of symptoms is usually within 24 hours of eating contaminated shellfish. Death can occur within two to three days.

Vibrio vulnificus is naturally present in all estuaries and marine environments. Especially high levels of Vibrio vulnificus have been found in raw oysters harvested from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Consumption of raw Gulf Coast oysters has regularly caused Vibrio vulnificus illnesses in California and other states.

Since 1991, DHS has required restaurants, markets and other retailers that sell Gulf Coast oysters to conspicuously display a warning about the risk of eating these oysters. Regulations prohibit retailers from receiving raw oysters if their origin is not clearly identified and require the retailer to retain oysters identification tags for 90 days. In addition, state regulations require all dealers and retailers to maintain proper records, which allows for the rapid identification of shellfish sources linked to illnesses. If you have any questions about the source of oysters displayed for sale, please ask your retailer or oyster supplier.

DHS warns consumers that all foods of animal origin pose some risk when eaten raw. To reduce the risk of illness, high-risk individuals are advised to cook all foods of animal origin, such as oysters.

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The information contained herein has been obtained from sources that the Company believes to be reliable, however, the Company has not independently verified or confirmed the information and the recipient acknowledges that no representations or warranties are being made in connection with the use of the information.