Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gulf oyster popularity increases; safety measures stepped up

Across the nation, millions of Americans love the rich and succulent flavors of the Gulf of Mexico oysters. Available throughout the year, the shellfish provide decadence without the guilt as a low-calorie protein that is an excellent source of zinc, vitamin B-12 and omega-3 fatty acids.

The Gulf of Mexico waters produce the world’s best oysters due to the nutrient-rich waters in which they were raised and harvested, yielding more than 500 million pounds of in-shell oysters each year. The Gulf Coast oyster community currently produces nearly 65 percent of all oysters commercially harvested in the United States.
The oysters from the Gulf Coast are delightful to enjoy both raw and cooked. However, it’s important for oyster enthusiasts to understand the potential risk associated with eating raw shellfish, including Gulf of Mexico oysters.

Vibrio vulnificus is a naturally occurring bacteria that normally lives in warm, salty seawater and can be contracted by consuming raw seafood or allowing an exposed wound to come in contact with affected water. In at-risk consumers, such as those with liver disease, diabetes or a weakened immune system, vibrio vulnificus can be life threatening.
Gulf Coast oyster processors have taken the lead in developing new post-harvest processes technologies to ensure safer alternatives to traditional raw oysters for at-risk consumers. These processes reduce any present vibrio vulnificus to non-detectable levels allowing oysters to be consume safely without cooking.

Three post-harvest treatment processes currently are being practiced at Gulf Coast seafood processors: individual quick-freezing (IQF), low-heat pasteurization or heat-cool pasteurization (HCP), and high-hydrostatic pressure (HPP) and irradiation. Though each process is very different, all reduce risk and increase safety for at-risk consumers.
Restaurants serving oysters must visibly post the following statement in two of three spots--on one of the walls and either on each menu or at each table:

There may be a risk associated with consuming raw shellfish as is the case with other raw protein products. If you suffer from chronic illness of the liver, stomach or blood or have other immune disorders, you should eat these products fully cooked.

The Louisiana Restaurant Association makes these signs available to members both printed and electronic as a member service.
Gulf of Mexico oysters are delectable any way you enjoy them—raw, baked, broiled, chargrilled, fried and everything in between. The Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition encourages at-risk consumers to enjoy Gulf of Mexico oysters fully-cooked or post-harvest processed.

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