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Questions to Ask a Restaurant Before Eating Raw Oysters

February 13, 2024
vibrio vulnificus bacteria

Due to a growing concern with a bacterium known as Vibrio vulnificus, oyster lovers should be on alert when it comes to eating oysters. It is simply no longer safe to eat oysters raw, especially if you don’t know which waters they came from, and how they were harvested and stored. But if you insist on eating raw oysters, here are a few questions you should ask the restaurant. These could literally save your life.

Questions to Ask Before Eating Oysters

Plate of oysters may contain vibrio

  • Where do your oysters come from? In my experience, no one should eat oysters that come from the Gulf of Mexico because the waters are so warm year-round.
  • When were the oysters harvested? The restaurant should know the exact time, location and date they were harvested, and they should have tags to prove it.
  • When did you receive these oysters? In my experience, you are taking a risk with oysters that are more than 10 days old from the date of harvest.

Red Flags – When You Shouldn’t Order Raw Oysters

  • If the staff cannot readily answer your questions, then they are not used to serving oysters. That’s not a good sign for you.
  • If oysters aren’t on the menu and the restaurant suddenly has an “oyster special,” you should avoid those oysters.

Most restaurants that serve oysters responsibly will happily answer all of your questions because they understand the seriousness of this issue. They also take pride in assuring their customers’ health.

Why Are Raw Oysters Dangerous?

Vibrio vulnificus bacteria

“Global warming has led to warmer oceans, which enables a Vibrio vulnificus to grow and bloom inside oyster shells,” says Scott O’Sullivan, nationally recognized Vibrio attorney. “If you don’t cook your oysters, you could be ingesting a bacterium that kills 1 in 5 of the people it infects. Those who are lucky enough to live usually have undergone multiple amputations to rid their body of the infection. Vibrio vulnificus is no joke.”

Oysters are filter feeders: they filter water and live off of the plankton and other particles captured in their shells. When the water they’re in is warm and contains Vibrio vulnificus, it gets trapped in the oyster. If you eat this oyster and the bacteria makes it into your blood stream, you have a very high chance of dying. If you live, you will probably lose both of your legs and maybe your arms.

Vibrio causes Septicemia, which means that it attacks your vascular system and internal organs. People with depressed immune systems are particularly vulnerable, but others are susceptible, too.

“My first vibrio case came to me through a friend who called and said his buddy was in the hospital, possibly from poisoning he received from an oyster,” says O’Sullivan, who has been handling Vibrio vulnificus poisoning cases for over 20 years. “When I arrived at the hospital, I was utterly shocked at what I found: this poor man was fighting for his life because the bacteria were attacking his internal organs, but it had also attacked both of his legs. Imagine both his legs from the knees down as black as shoe leather because they had already died.”

O’Sullivan continues, “After that case, I warned everyone I knew not to eat raw oysters if they were harvested south of Delaware. The oceans north of that point were still chilly enough to keep Vibrio vulnificus from growing and blooming. But as the oceans warm, Vibrio thrives. I now tell people not to eat raw oysters from anywhere south of Maine. But to be honest, I don’t eat raw oysters at all anymore. It’s just too scary.”

Can You Eat Cooked Oysters?

Cooked oysters are safe to eat

Short answer: Yes! Cooking, baking and frying the oysters kills the bacteria, making the oysters safe to eat and enjoy. However, I still recommend that you ask the questions I outlined above and watch for the red flags.

If you have any questions about Vibrio vulnificus, or you know someone infected with Vibrio vulnificus, call 303-388-5304 to learn more about your options.


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