The Food and Drug Administration is considering banning fresh oysters from May to October. If approved, oysters harvested during warm months would have to be processed before they could be sold. Florida fisherman and restaurateurs say the ban would hurt their business.
They can be steamed, fried, baked or even barbequed but real oyster lovers eat their rocks right out of the half shell. And while the taste suits their pallets, their bodies sometimes disagree.
Susan Smith of the State Department of Health says raw oysters can cause food poisoning and occasionally death, mainly among older consumers and people with weak immune systems.
“This bacterium that is commonly found in oysters during Florida’s hot summer months could have an ill effect on someone who has an immune compromised system.”
The FDA is proposing a yearly ban on the sale of raw oyster during the warmer part of the year. Restaurants could still serve oysters, they would just have to be cooked and uncooked oysters would have to be processed before they’re sold.
Restaurants that sell raw oysters are required to put a disclaimer on their menus warning about the risks.
Barnacle Bills, a seafood restaurant in Tallahassee, has been selling raw oysters for 32 years and hasn’t reported one case of sickness or death. Owner Jeff Stilwell says a ban is bad for business
“Any kind of ban on anything just crushes business. You know the rumors, the innuendos, the things that go around. It will probably put half the seafood restaurants over on the coast out of business.”
And fisherman will suffer as well. Ten percent of the country’s oysters are harvested from Florida’s Apalachicola Bay where dozens of fisherman depend on oysters to make a living.
If approved, the ban would go into effect in 2011.