What Are The Risks From Eating Raw Oysters?

Raw oysters are one of the most popular delicacies in most parts of the world. Every year millions of people eat raw oysters either at home or in restaurants but, no matter how delicious they are when served with lemon juice or sauce, they can have serious health consequences.

Dangerous bacteria

For those with specific health conditions, eating raw oysters is a recipe for disaster and is caused by a virulent bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus. This little pest occurs naturally in seawater but particularly in areas where the salt content of the water’s low, such as estuaries and bays. When water temperatures rise, it thrives and this is when the risk of getting food poisoning from oysters is at its highest. In certain parts of the world where the waters are warm, e.g. the Gulf of Mexico, the bacteria is a major problem and prolific from May through to November. Vibrio vulnificus enters the body of the oyster because the latter are known as filter feeders, filtering water rich in plankton and food particles through the gills. The foods they consume contain levels of the bacteria which, when consumed by the mollusk, become concentrated in its tissues, where they remain when the oyster is harvested for eating.

Symptoms of being ill from raw oysters

The norovirus, a virulent sickness and vomiting bug, has been linked to consuming raw oysters. The crux of the problem is that oysters contaminated with bacteria are impossible to detect, even to the connoisseur, with no difference in colour, smell or taste. So, you can’t tell a good oyster from a bad one, which is where the real danger lies because, usually, our sense of taste and/or smell tells us something’s wrong with the food we eat. Vibrio vulnificus has the ability to make you feel very unwell but isn’t normally life-threatening. If you’re infected, you’ll feel nauseous, have abdominal pains, fever, diarrhoea, hot and cold sweats, the shakes, shock and possibly blisters on your skin. All very unpleasant!

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